Isabel Rawsthorne: living with Giacometti, drinking with Bacon and painting Nureyev
The student and the assistantIsabel was born in London, but spent her childhood in Liverpool. Her father was a sailor, captain of the ship and took exotic animals to the British zoos. He died very early, leaving his family without money, and Isabel — without any hope for education. Still, she received a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Arts and soon began to work in the studio of the sculptor Jacob Epstein.
According to James Lord, the biographer of Alberto Giacometti, she was "tall, lithe, superbly proportioned and moved with the agility of a feline predator. Something exotic, suggesting obscure origins, was visible in her full mouth, high cheek-bones, and heavy-lidded, slanting eyes… She had a fierce animal confidence in her right to do as she pleased." Lord met Isabel much later, in Paris, but the magnetic impression this woman made on others was unlikely to have a limitation period or to be limited to a select few. So Jacob Epstein was also captured: Isabel left the academy, became his mistress, model and first assistant. He created several sensual busts in which the external appeal of the model was combined with an impressive and even frightening inner independence and determination.
- Jacob Epstein. Isabel, 1932
- Jacob Epstein. Isabel, 1932
Revived SculptureThe journalist of the British tabloid newspaper "Daily Express" Sefton Delmer saw the bust of Isabel by Jacob Epstein and decided that he would someday marry that woman. A few months later he was transferred to the French office and on his first evening in Paris he met a girl, a bronze image of which he fell in love with and whom he proposed to long ago in absentia. Of course, Delmer could not miss his chance. Isabel Nicholas became Isabel Delmer, and along with the new last name got a luxury apartment on the Place Vendôme, new connections with the Parisian bohemia and a valuable opportunity not to think about money. In all fairness, it has to be added that before Isabel met Delmer, she had already spent two years in Paris and become a Montparnasse celebrity.
In the 30's, after a short fascination with
Once in 1937, at midnight, on the Boulevard Saint Michel Giacometti saw Isabel, distant and majestic — and found the long-awaited formula according to which he would work on his special, elongated, thin sculptures. The illusory figure of Isabel became Giacometti’s archetype of a woman goddess growing out of the earth, steady and motionless, unreachable and elusive, no matter how close he came to her.
Black Propaganda and The Royal BalletDuring the war, Isabel, together with her husband returned to London, put aside her paints and brushes and participated in the salvation of the world. Her husband Sefton Delmer conducted radio broadcasts in German, disguised himself as a supporter of the Nazis and with the help of cunning information tricks undermined the authority of the invaders. Without direct evidence, historians still tend to believe that Isabel actively participated in this psychological war and "black propaganda" and definitely edited the anti-Nazi journal. Her circle of contacts during those years included: typographers, spies, poets, radio presenters and journalists. A common noble cause, however, did not keep her married for long. By the end of the war, Sefton and Isabel divorced.
In the next 20 years, the scenery of Isabel’s life would change dramatically. She married the composer Constant Lambert, the then Chief Conductor of the Royal Opera. Lambert is practically the first British composer who admired jazz, a brilliant musician and a witty music critic. He began to drink a lot during the war and had a horror of doctors and medicine. He would die at 46 years due to undiagnosed diabetes.
But during her life with Lambert Isabel received a pass to the rehearsal halls and orders for the decoration of performances. She drew and painted dancers, found new perspectives and meanings in ballet gestures, balanced on the verge of abstraction and figurative art, worked with Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn and called her artistic style "quintessentialism".
Francis Bacon and othersContemporaries said that when Isabel entered the café, the visitors stopped chewing, and their forks hung in the air until she found a place and sat down at the table. In an interview, Francis Bacon, an open homosexual, said that Isabel Rawsthorne was the only woman with whom he had a personal relationship. Whatever the piquant circumstances of this relationship might be, it certainly was a long friendship that grew out of similar views on art, personal affection and long conversations while drinking a couple of bottles of wine. Since 1949, Isabel Lambert and Francis Bacon had participated in group exhibitions together, presenting the world of art a new figurative experience.
- Francis Bacon. Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho. 1967
- Photo: Isabel Rawsthorne in Soho. Photographer: John Deakin
- Isabel Rawsthorne. Baboon and Child
- Isabel Rawsthorne. Migration
Author: Anna Sidelnilkova