Roland Strasser (Austrian, 1895-1974) Lady into Fox: Portrait of the Prima Ballerina Sally Gilmour
Lot 113* AR W
Roland Strasser
(Austrian, 1895-1974)
Lady into Fox: Portrait of the Prima Ballerina Sally Gilmour
Sold for £ 8,750 (US$ 12,293) inc. premium

Lot Details
Roland Strasser (Austrian, 1895-1974)
Lady into Fox: Portrait of the Prima Ballerina Sally Gilmour
signed 'Strasser' (lower right), also signed, inscribed and dated 'Prima Ballerina/Sally GILMOUR/by/Roland STRASSER/1949/'Lady into Fox' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
120 x 77cm (47 1/4 x 30 5/16in).


  • Provenance
    Private collection, Canada

    Sarah (Sally) Gilmour was born in November 1921 in Malaya, the daughter of Colin Gilmour who was a medical officer. When the family returned to London, Sally, then aged nine, was sent to train with Tamara Karsavina, one of the founders of modern British ballet. Three years later, when Karsavina left London she continued her training with Marie Rambert.

    In 1936 Gilmour joined The Ballet Rambert and danced with the company for the next seventeen years. After her parents returned to Malaya, the company became her family. Her mother was killed in 1942 and her father interned as a POW during the war. In the 1940s, with her elfin good looks and distinctive style, she was considered as a second only to Margot Fonteyn among British ballerinas.

    She first captured the public's imagination in May 1939 when, age only 18, she danced the title role of Silvia Tebrick in the première of Andrée Howard's 'Lady into Fox', based on a novel by David Garnett. She led the company throughout the war years and was one of a small group who persuaded the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts to help restore Ballet Rambert after its closure in 1942.

    Equally at ease in either a dramatic or comedic role, one of her greatest performances was as Giselle in a production specifically choreographed for her by Marie Rambert. Cyril Beaumont, the celebrated British dance historian and critic praised her performance for 'its lyric qualities, its poetry, its pathos. Other interpreters ... may excel her in technical ability, but not one of them equals her in expression'.

    Gilmour led the Ballet Rambert on its important tour of Australia from 1947-1949 and it was presumably on this trip that Strasser immortalised the dancer in our portrait. On the same trip Sally met and married Allan Wynn a prominent cardiologist; the couple subsequently had two sons and a daughter. Sally divided her life between Australia and Britain returning to London in 1951 to dance as a guest with Rambert, to create the role of Grace in Orlando's Silver Wedding (1951) for the Festival of Britain at Battersea Pleasure Gardens, and to take on the role of Louise in the musical Carousel. Her final London performance, dancing Confessional, was on 10 December 1952 at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Shortly after the couple returned to Australia, where they settled in Melbourne.

    She continued to be interested in dance and appeared briefly in films and on television. In 1970 Gilmour and her family returned to London, where she remained until 1996 when she went back to Sydney where she died on 23 May 2004.

    Roland Strasser was born in Vienna in 1895. His father was the artist Arthur Strasser (1854-1927) and the young Roland first trained in his father's studio. In 1911 he attended the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts under the tutelage of Rudolf Jettmar and Julius Schmidt; he then continued his training at the Academy Munich until 1915.

    In 1919 Strasser began his travels; he first went to The Netherlands and then travelled extensively throughout Indonesia journeying through Siam and Java and then on to New Guinea, China and India. By 1925 he was in Mongolia where he was briefly interned by the Russian authorities accused of espionage before being released and journeying on to Tibet, Japan and North Africa. In 1927 he returned to Vienna before settling in Bali in 1934 where he worked from a studio in the mountainous area of Kintaman, just above Lake Batur, for ten years. This was a particularly productive period for the artist when he produced numerous portraits of local characters and scenery. Strasser left Bali in 1944 and died in Santa Monica, California, in 1974.

    The present portrait of Sally Gilmour was nominated for The Archibald Prize at The Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1949.

    Works by Strasser can be found in many public collections including The Heeres Museum, Vienna; Moderne Gallerie, Innsbruck; Academie der Kunste, Berlin, Academy of Art, Honolulu; National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; UCLA Art Gallery, Los Angeles; and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
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