William Orpen’s portrait of Lady Idina Wallace – characterised as “the Bolter” in three novels by Nancy Mitford – is at Sotheby’s sale of British and Irish Art in London on November 19. It is the most important full length portrait by the Irish artist to come on the market in ten years. Beautiful, wealthy, well connected and sexually liberated Lady Idina’s third husband was Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll. Together they became part of the hedonistic elite of British East Africa known as the Happy Valley Set.
Painted in 1915 the portrait was commissioned not by Lady Idina’s husband at the time, but Sir James Harriet Dunn, a married millionaire and industrialist smitten with Idina. He paid the then exorbitant sum of £750. The resulting picture demonstrates Orpen’s virtuosity at the height of his career. Central to his oeuvre was Orpen’s love of women and this portrait is a celebration of womanhood – Idina’s beauty, intelligence, spirit and individuality has been captured on canvas by an artist who resembled a modern-day Van Dyck.
The painting is one of a series of large portraits of female sitters, a compositional device set in motion by Orpen’s over life size portrait of his lover Mrs. St. George the previous year. The verticality of these pictures suited the artist’s lithe, slender women in flowing gowns and dark backgrounds. The painting is estimated at £800,000-1.2 million. The record for Orpen was established in 2001 when Portrait of Gardenia St. George with Riding Crop sold for £1,983,000.
UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £962,500