Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lydia Lopokova, Lady Keynes (1892-1981) 

Ambrose McEvoy (1878-1927)

Portrait of Lydia Lopokova, Lady Keynes (1892-1981), Ambrose McEvoy
Oil on canvas
20th Century
24 x 20 in (61 x 51 cm)
The artist’s widow, in 1928; English Private Collection.
London, Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition,1928
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Lydia Lopokova was a leading ballerina in the early twentieth century, with rare qualities of expression and natural grace. She was one of the ‘A-list’ celebrities of her day, and aside from natural talent for performance, was beautiful, clever, and popular. She was friends with Margot Fonteyn, E.M. Forster and T.S.Eliot; partnered by great Nijinsky; drawn (frequently) by Picasso; looked down on (like most people) by Virginia Woolf; and, finally, married to John Maynard Keynes, the great economist.

Lopokova was born in Tsarist Russia, the daughter of a St Petersburg theatre usher. After graduating from the Imperial Ballet School in 1909, she joined Diaghilev’s celebrated Ballets Russe, and performed in leading roles around the world. After her London Debut in 1918, Osbert Sitwell wrote of her “grace, pathos, entrancing cleverness, true comic genius, and liveliness... She developed the movements of her hands and arms in a way that hitherto no dancer had attempted, thereby achieving a new step forward in technique.” She was in temperament as flitting as her celebrated dancing, and in 1919 abruptly left her first husband, Rondolfo Barocchi, with a note which that simply concluded, “Excuse me if I trouble you, but I can’t do otherwise.” Lopokova finally settled in England in the early 1920s, when the economist John Maynard Keynes fell “passionately and pathetically in love” with her. They were married in 1925. She became a devoted wife, and enabled Keynes to continue working after his first serious illness in 1937.

Lopokova was frequently painted by the leading artists of the 1920s. This is the probably the first of McEvoy’s two portraits of her, and can be dated to about 1920. A second, much looser portrait of Lopokova by McEvoy was formerly in the collection of Sir John and Lady Witt [Christies 5 November 1999, lot 217]. Lopokova was also painted in a fine full-length portrait by Ausgustus John [Private Collection, formerly with Philip Mould Ltd] which was left unfinished because Lopokova was too frightened of John to attend the final sittings.
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