Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley (1905-1981) with Lilies
Oliver Messel (London 1904 - St James, Barbados 1978)
Natalia Pavlona Paley is sombrely depicted in a stormy landscape, enveloped in a floating garland of funereal white lilies.Tragedy surrounded this Romanov princess from an early age and a sense of melancholy certainly lurks in this portrait. She was born Countess Natalia Pavlovna von Hohenfelsen in a Parisian suburb in 1905. Her father, the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia, had been exiled by his nephew, Tsar Nicholas II, for having committed the royal sin of marrying a commoner. In 1912, the Tsar acquiesced and Natalia and her family returned to Russia where they lived luxuriantly in St Petersburg in a palatial estate filled with the fine porcelain and Old Master paintings her parents had collected while living in France. This privileged existence was not to last, however. The Bolshevik uprising of 1917 led to the execution of Natalia’s father, brother and, most famously, her first cousin, Tsar Nicholas II. After a harrowing escape through Finland and Sweden, Natalia settled in exile in Paris. She eventually married the couturier Lucien Lelong and became a well-known socialite, linked to the artist Jean Cocteau and dancer Serge Lifar. Beautiful and glamorous, she was a favourite model of the great fashion photographers of the day, including Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton and Horst P. Horst. It's not clear how the renowned costume and set designer Oliver Messel came to paint this portrait. Messel's earliest stage commission was in 1925 for a London performance of Zéphyre et Flore by the Diaghilev Ballet. It was perhaps through this prestigious production that the paths of the up-and-coming designer and exiled Romanov princess first crossed.
Oil painting on canvas, Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley (1905-1981) with Lilies by Oliver Messel (London 1904 - St James, Barbados 1978). A three-quarter-length portrait, facing, blonde shoulder-length hair, dressed in black and surrounded by lillies. Landscape background with stormy sky. She was a member of the Romanov family and daughter of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia as well as a first cousin of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II. After the Russian revolution she emigrated first to France and later to the United States. She became a fashion icon, socialite and briefly pursued a career as a film actress.
Bought at Sotheby's, London, 27th June 1994, lot 190
Makers and roles
Oliver Messel (London 1904 - St James, Barbados 1978), artist