Photographs of 1930s society ladies in costume, as rediscovered in 1990

Madame Yevonde’s experimental pictures showed Lady Milbanke channelling Penthesilea, Diana Mosley as a bored-looking Venus and other dressed-up luminaries of the day

‘Society ladies as you’ve never seen them’ titillated the 6 May 1990 cover, trailing a spread of otherworldly 1930s portraiture from the experimental photographer Madame Yevonde.

There are, indeed, no Agas, chocolate labs or wellies in these surreal shots of titled bright young things as figures from classical mythology. Lady Milbanke (‘a frequent dancing partner of the Duke of Windsor… she married the grandson of Tsar Alexander III’) is Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, porcelain flesh pierced by arrows. Viscountess Tiverton (‘renowned for her dry sense of humour and practical jokes’) makes a sublime Europa in golden drapery, one perfect cheek leaning against a highly decorated and seemingly stoical bull. Diana Mosley looks quite bored, frankly, as a languid Venus in a shell headdress. Some suffered for Yevonde’s art: Lady Malcolm Campbell as grieving matriarch Niobe was subjected to ‘hefty applications of glycerine until, in real pain, the sitter gave Yevonde the agonised effect she sought.’

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