Jessie Matthew's only known Portrait
24 Mar, 2010
painting of Jessie Matthews (1907 - 1981), thought to be the only
surviving original portrait of a talented actress, dancer and
singer whose passion and ill-fated pursuit of romance led her to be
dubbed the 'Diva of Debauchery', has sold at auction in Salisbury
The daughter of a
Berwick Street Market costermonger, Jessie grew up in Soho with her
ten siblings, but headed to
York as a chorus girl at the age of 16. Returning toEngland three
years later, she became one of the most celebrated stars of the
West End stage during the 1920s; being the first to perform songs
by writers including Noel Coward and Cole Porter, and later
becomingBritain's first international movie star.
In 1930, Matthews
was named in the high profile divorce of the actor and comedian
Sonnie Hale from his wife, actress Evelyn 'Boo' Laye. Matthews,
herself already a divorcée, was present in the courtroom while the
explicit love letters she had written to Hale were read to the
gallery of newspaper reporters and the disapproving divorce judge,
who condemned her as 'a person of odious mind'.
The portrait by
Thomas Cantrell Dugdale was sold by Matthews' adopted daughter,
former actress and model Catherine, Countess Grixoni. Matthews was
estranged from her daughter for many years and disinherited her on
her death in 1981, stating that she had been 'a great
disappointment to me in my life'. Dugdale's portrait, painted at
the height of Matthews' fame, had in fact been left to the Tate
Gallery, but they declined the bequest and it passed to Catherine
as next of kin.
It is believed to have been sold to a private English
collector when it came on the market at Woolley and Wallis on
Wednesday 24th March.