have you ever looked at many portraits, photography or paintings of Edith Sitwell?
what strikes you?
Edith 1918, by Roger Fry
The woman, yes-She was extraordinary. Her features were captivating, perhaps not beautiful, perhaps not even close. Miss Sitwell did manage to make the list of DEVASTATING BEAUTIES compiled by little augury from a field of blogging aesthetes earlier in the year. After looking at photographs inching over the Sitwell profile, the deep set eyes draped by the shadow of a brow-penetrating her observer's gaze-
photograph by Jane Brown
-what else is there? After getting past that stare- It's the jewelry, Darling!
Debra Healy of the blog-Diamonds and Rhubarb- and little augury are taking a look at the Dame's jewels. No one better than Debra to collaborate with; she is an expert- a Paris resident, she pens a second blog called Paris Originals. There is little doubt that the 6 foot frame of Edith Sitwell adorned with the exotic stones and simple loosely fitting gowns must have been arresting. She 'wore extravagant clothes and jewels; usually the clothes did not fit at all they just hung. She did it exactly her own way and got away with it.' (Horst)
Some of Edith's jewels-
a pair of French gold-plated expanding bracelets
two aquamarine rings-one with rubies on the shoulders
(Michael Gosschalk of Motocombe Street, Belgravia-supplied these)
an amethyst ring
a fluorite ring,carved in the shape of two bears, 19th c. Chinese
( image from The Sitwells)
One of the England's privileged- bright young things, Allanah Harper- observed:
'Here was the beauty of a Piero della Francesca. Her flat fair hair was like that of a naiad, her hands as white as alabaster. On her long gothic fingers she wore huge rings, lumps of topaz and turquoise, on her wrist were coral and jet bracelets.' (1925)
Edith by Cecil Beaton, 1926
Edith's hands were her face-(Not my words the Dame's). 'I am not beautiful, but I wouldn't look any other way.'
'My hands are my face!'
Edith's beautiful jewelry achieved its own fame- she penned articles about them, along with her clothes, for Harper's Bazaar (Feb 1939, Precious Stones and Metals), My Clothes and I, (Harper's Bazaar October 1959 & The Observer, May 1959). 'I feel undressed without my rings. These aquamarines I love, but I’ve got a beautiful topaz like a sunflower--and when I’ve worn these too much I feel it’s being neglected….I’ve got red and green and black amber bracelets, and a ring I call tiger into grape. Its yellow, veined with blue and red, but when it snows it turns blue.' In "Precious Stones and Metals,Harper's Bazaar (London), Edith recommends mixing semi-precious and precious stones 'to revive the rich an variegated palette of ancient jewelry...'
Debra adds, the tiger into grape stone she is describing could be ametrine a cross between citrine and amethyst- both are quartz and could be the same crystal, or an alexandrite.
One of the many portraits of Edith Sitwell painted by Pavel Tchelitchew. Edith and Pavel began a deep & complicated friendship- she his muse and his champion. Edith wrote a friend that she was 'frightfully pleased,' with the Sibyl portrait. Tchelitchew's biographer says the artist wanted 'to pay a signal tribute to Edith Sitwell.' Edith wears no rings in the portrait-instead- a monumental brooch that appears to be weighing down her very simple dress.
the Sibyl portrait, 1937
Dame Edith seldom completed an interview without referring to her huge aquamarine rings( why not?)
from the 1959 article My Clothes and I -"She is wearing four enormous chunks of Aquamarine on her famous hands and her nails were enameled a deep brown red. Her plain black satin dress was cut with a low U neck, and the brooch pinned there was a Blue stone set in engraved gold that her brother Osbert brought her from China."
"I take very great care of my hands and put cream on them--Peggy Sage and other things." edith sitwell-
Edith Sitwell,by Norman Parkinson, 1939
Edith wears a Queen Anne bracelet and ring of pearls and mauve pink topaz in the portrait
Horst photographed Edith in 1948 for Vogue in New York. Here-along with her aquamarines-Edith wears two massive brooches. Horst says “Edith Sitwell wore extravagant clothes and Jewels; usually the clothes did not fit at all they just hung. She did it exactly her own way and got away with it.” "She was considered an Improbable and anachronistic fashion icon frequently photographed bristling with gigantic aquamarine rings-- at least two to a finger, and plastered with vast brooches of semi-precious stones" (from Verdura: the life work of a master jeweler, by Patricia Corbett)
The Brooches-from the Chinese Box- likely were a gift from Osbert, Edith's brother, brought back from a 1934 trip to China. Debra adds- the Chines box seems to be mountings in gold or silver gilt on white jade. The stones look like rubies, sapphires, jades, and cats-eyes (chrysoberyl).
nestled in the Chinese box
Edith with Osbert in 1948
an ankle ornament of traditional silverwork, Yemen
Debra adds- the jewelry Dame Edith is wearing (above) looks ethnic, the bracelets could be from India or Yemen. The necklace looks like a belt. She must have been very large boned, to be able to wear two rings on one finger, and those bracelets were originally ankle bracelets for much smaller women .The necklace (belt) looks Malaysian.
Edith photographed by Jane Brown
from My Clothes and I
from My Clothes and I
The Brown photograph accompanied Edith's Observer article. According to Edith the necklace became known as her 'Aztec' necklace. She writes-
' This gold collar was made for me by an American woman called Millicent Rogers. She was one of my greatest friends, though I only met her once. She sent it to me, and the British Museum kept it four days and thought it was pre-Columban[sic], undoubtedly from the tomb of an Inca-though they couldn't make out how the gold could be stiffened in a way that wasn't in existence in those days. But I have to be careful of the clanking when I am reciting and don't often wear it for that.'
Debra adds, Millicent Rogers may have had Fulco di Verdura put the necklace together for Dame Edith, because it has been attributed to him in Victoria Glendinning’s book.(Edith Sitwell A Unicorn Among Lions, Weidenfeld and Nicolson,1981, London.) Glendinning also mentions that Dame Edith wore “ The Aztec” collar to a nearly disastrous reading at the Edinburgh Festival in August of 1959. It was reported that the necklace made so much noise, and combined with a malfunctioning microphone made it practically impossible for the audience the hear her. This must be the reason she mentions the noise issue in the interview in Harper's Bazaar. She was after all very concerned about her image, and her (readings) performances.
a 1962 Beaton photograph
The 1959 Harper's Bazaar cover likely honoured Edith on her 75th birthday with the peacock eye cover. This is the issue with Edith's article- My Clothes and I. There is not a dedication referencing the cover -but it can not be a coincidence; as a child Edith had befriended a peacock on the grounds of her family estate Renishaw. (see the little augury post here)
( cover image-Diamonds and Rhubarb)
Cecil Beaton photographed the great lady in dramatically studied poses only a woman of confidence could evoke in
1962. The Dame adorned with her rings and brooches- and feathers.