New Publication: I WAS SYLVETTE: The Story of Lydia Corbett by Isabel Coulton
For a few months in 1954 a beautiful young girl crossed the path of the century's greatest artist, Picasso. What followed turned into a magical episode, a wonderful stroke of good fortune, as she became the subject of his Sylvette series, over 60 portraits, drawings and sculptures, and incidentally perhaps the major source for the long-skirted, pony-tailed 'Look of the Fifties'. Sylvette David's life was changed by the experience, and she began on the journey that was eventually to see her, now Lydia Corbett, become a regularly exhibited artist in her own right. The ride was often an uneven one, as she navigated marriages and relationships, life in Notting Hill or the Marais in Paris, at Dartington Hall and in a Devon village nearby, modelling, raising children, going in search of enlightenment to Indonesia, to Japan, to New Mexico. This book, illustrated with her, her mother's and Picasso's paintings as well as evocative snaps from family albums, tells of the places and people in her life, bother after 1954 and, just as fascinating, before. She spent her early childhood on the Ile du Levant off the Cote d'Azur, notorious as a nudist colony, where her English grandfather, an unlikely clergyman who won the DSO and MC in WW1, had built three houses. By 1942 her mother had been forced to flee with her and her brother to an extraordinary community in the hills on the mainland, a refuge from the Germans and a resort of the local Resistance. She completed what passed for her education at the archetypal child-centred experimental school, Summerhill, in Suffolk. With a start like that, no wonder the rest of her life has been so full of twists and of interest, something to intrigue and inspire all who read these chapters, as well as the final interview with Francis Kyle, who exhibited her work for many years in the West End.
The National Gallery is currently showing a retrospective of Picasso's portraits, including a depiction of Sylvette / Lydia Corbett until 5 February 2017.