Aleksander Nikolaevich Benois (Russian/French, 1870-1960) Costume design for Dames a la Cour from The Sleeping Beauty

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Lot 33AR
Aleksander Nikolaevich Benois
(Russian/French, 1870-1960)
Costume design for Dames a la Cour from The Sleeping Beauty

£ 2,000 - 3,000
US$ 2,500 - 3,800
PROPERTY FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF LADY ST. JUST (NÉE MARIA BRITNEVA),
EXECUTOR FOR THE TENNESSEE WILLIAMS ESTATE
Aleksander Nikolaevich Benois (Russian/French, 1870-1960)
Costume design for Dames a la Cour from The Sleeping Beauty
signed in Latin and dated '1946' and further inscribed in Cyrillic 'The Sleeping Beauty Milan' (lower left); further inscribed in French 'La Belle au Bois Dormant Act IV' (upper left), numbered '11' and titled (upper right), with various inscriptions and labels (on verso)
pencil, pen, ink, watercolour and gold on paper
31.5 x 24cm (12 3/8 x 9 7/16in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Sotheby's, London, 14 December 1995, lot 280
    Collection of Lady St. Just
    Thence by descent


    Lady St. Just, actress, society grande dame and literary executor of the Tennessee Williams Estate, was born Maria Britneva in St. Petersburg. Her family fled the Revolution and settled in London where Maria was brought up against a backdrop rich in education and literature. Ultimately pursuing a call to acting, Maria had loved ballet as a child and retained a life-long passion and love for ballet, and had many friends in that world. She was a keen collector of all things Russian, particularly art relating to ballet and the theatre. She gathered many famous friends during her acting career, including Marlon Brando, and became a favourite of Sir John Gielgud. Fatefully, it was at a dinner party at Gielgud's house in 1948 that she met Tennessee Williams, then taking the London theatre world by storm. This first encounter was the start of a life-long and important friendship for the playwright and the woman who was to become his muse. Williams particularly valued Maria's loyalty and sharp wit and, notably, she was the inspiration for the character of Maggie the Cat in his 1955 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

    In 1956, Maria married the English peer, Peter Grenfell, Lord St. Just. She became chatelaine of the family seat, Wilbury, the oldest Palladian house in Britain, where Peter's mother had hosted Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Although she now had a family of her own, Maria, now Lady St. Just, continued to support Tennessee Williams and retained her important role in his life and work and when he died in 1983, she was named literary executor of his estate.

    Lady St. Just took her role as executor of the Williams estate seriously and did not shy from battling to maintain the integrity of various productions. In 1990, she granted the world a rare insight into the mind of the playwright when she published Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982. She died in 1994 and is remembered by the literary and theatrical world as Williams's closest woman friend and vigilant guardian of his artistic heritage.
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