A vibrant 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 for £5,200.
The daughter of a Berwick Street Market costermonger, Jessie grew up in Soho with her ten siblings, but headed to New 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.