28 March 2010

decorating Edith with diamonds and rhubarb


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

Edith Sitwell photographed by Terry Fincher

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).

massive brooches
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

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.

A peacock? Indeed.



  1. Fantastic post! Loved the focus on her jewels. Thank you!

  2. Fabulous beyond. I especially love the first Cecil Beaton Photograph. Such an impressive woman and I love the jewelry collection.

    Giveaway is up on my site

    Art by Karena

  3. I say, LA, how do you do it? I am in awe of your erudite and academic writing, and the (clearly) vast amount of esearch as you bring to the table. I am your most humble servant, Reggie

  4. I think the thing that always strikes me are her SLEEVES (when they are in the shot) - they are always enormous. There is a great biography of ES that I read a few years ago - interesting life - rather a tortured soul if I remember -

    Thanks indeed for another splendid post


  5. Just Perfection. Beautifully woven together.

  6. Trust me—Millicent Rogers made that necklace. And put it together herself. She didn't need Verdura's help.

  7. How utterly delightful Little Augury. You m'dear are surpassing all expectations of what is reading material in the blogging circles. The highest of high marks indeed. To think of Edith clanking about with the Aztec accompanying her sprightly vocals. Can this post be surpassed? I hope so for the Gods are with you and hell be damned to other less worthy blogging schlocks. By the way having an expert like Ms. Healy takes all the worry out of things. What doesn't she know? Tour de force beyond beyond

  8. LITTLE A-

    Superb in depth feature--with brilliant observations and research and imagery.

    Loved this.

    In person: I think she must have had an amazing voice, that enraptured everyone. There was of course her settings, the houses, the interiors, the witty people, the time, the era, the clothes.
    That makes a lot of PRESENCE...for her.
    cheers, DIANE

  9. Indeed her hands are her face. How lovely they were. Almost as devastating as her brilliance.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Superb post. Beautifully put together. I too wear a very large blue topaz ring almost identical to one of Edith's. I adore your blog and am adding it to my list immediately xx

  12. thanks for the great comments- and especially to Christina for dropping by for the first time. to All her blog is Fashions Most Wanted- just added to my blog list. I found her through HOBAC. It is such a pleasure to have great support and generosity from fellow bloggers. HOBAC is just that. Luckily I had expert Debra on my side to bring her knowledge to the Edith post.

  13. Debra again I can't thank you enough for your superb archives and graciousness and patience with my questions. You are too kind. It is the generosity and support of fellow bloggers that encourages me to improve my own posts. Gaye

  14. Aesthete, You must know I trust you of course- I read you and comment religiously and as all know- yours was much the inspiration for my own efforts. I write with light knowledge of the times and people we all are fascinated by, when it comes to some topics- I know I definitely need expert advice-as I've sought out with you .Debra assisted on this to add her professional expertise, I guess it may be a No one but her hairdresser knows for sure situation- Perhaps her jeweler-I think she did patronize Verdura- knew for sure. In this case-two geniuses were better than one. As we see so often in the heady world of all areas of design-There is a creator and a maker, What would Chanel have been without her tailors, YSL without his? Gaye

  15. I love the story. It's so cliche to see an older woman with all her jewelry on, but she looks magnificent. So sweet.
    Lila Ferraro
    Queen Bedroom Sets

  16. This post is just so fantastic... I will come back to read it again and again. I love what she says about Millicent Rogers. Thank you LA for an outstanding read! Best, Barbara

  17. I think the mystery of Whom was the artist perhaps best said by Yeats in "Among School Children": How can we know the dancer from the dance?

  18. I saw her jewels, just as they are pictured here, at the Sitwell exhibit held at the NPG many moons ago. They were indeed magnificent.

    And, she was beautiful.

  19. HOBAC- She fascinates me. I read on the Renishaw site that it will be open to the public for the first time, a must see. Gaye



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