Lydia Corbett – paintings
Margaret Lovell D.LITT, FRBS, RWA – bronze sculpture
at David Simon Contemporary, 37 High Street, CASTLE CARY, BA7 7AP
3 – 30 March 2019
For the launch of David Simon Contemporary’s second gallery space, a new premises in Castle Cary, Somerset, this major solo exhibition of paintings by Lydia Corbett includes her latest series of both oil paintings and watercolours with ink. In her 85th year, many of her new paintings have a sense of looking back, both on her own painting practice as well as the model / painter relationship that she had with Pablo Picasso in the 1950s. Through the medium of oils, Corbett has found a bold voice, an enlightenment that enriches her language of expression. Accompanying this show is an exhibition of bronze sculptures by Dr Margaret Lovell. This eminent, internationally acclaimed sculptor has brought together a retrospective collection of contemporary head forms, which she first developed in the 1960s, demonstrating the diverse range of her stylistic approach within this oeuvre. This impressive combination of two artists showing together for the first time makes for an extraordinarily bold and enthralling exhibition.
37 High Street Castle Cary Somerset
Meditations on St Francis
Lydia Corbett, née Sylvette David, is famous for being one of Picasso’s major subjects in the Spaniard’s later period. During the early 1950’s, when the nineteen-year-old young French woman knew and posed for the great man, Picasso produced drawings, paintings and cut metal sculptures inspired by her.
Corbett is also a painter in her own right, her work popular and commercially successful because – rather than in spite of – being so inevitably influenced by cubist style. There is a poetic charm and richness all of her own in Corbett’s work which is expressed across the three media forms of watercolour, oil painting and ceramics. The watercolours are decorative and illustrational, evoking the whimsy, fantasy and poetry of Chagall’s style whilst in the more robust and iconic oils such as ‘Bremen Sylvette’, ‘Sylvette and Vase’ and ‘Cameret Courtyard’ Picasso is unmistakably recalled. ‘Bremen Sylvette’ notably speaks of Picasso’s later portraits of his last wife Jacqueline Roque, whilst also revealing Sylvette’s trademark ponytail; that fashion innovation that famously influenced Saint-Tropez-based Bridgit Bardot at the time.
In addition to her house near Avignon, Lydia is a Devon-based artist with an established reputation as a well-exhibited and collected artist in her own right. Now an octogenarian, Corbett still paints with a creative flourish reconnecting us with a less troubled and more care-free time when classic modern art was still de rigeur and in full throes.
Peter Davies. Writer and Art Critic. January 2019
Lydia Corbett was born in Paris in 1934 to an influential art dealer based in the Champs Elysees, and his wife, a studio potter. At the age of nineteen Lydia had moved to Vallauris in the south of France with her mother who worked at a pottery studio in the town. It was here that she had a chance encounter with Pablo Picasso nearly sixty years ago, in 1954. Sylvette was chatting with friends while smoking and drinking coffee on one of the terraces of the town’s potteries. Over the wall of the neighbouring studio, Sylvette spotted Picasso holding up one of his pictures. It was a simple image of a young woman with a fringe and a ponytail; it was a portrait of her, executed from memory. One day she knocked on the door of his studio, he was delighted to see her and welcomed her in. ‘I want to paint Sylvette!’, Picasso exclaimed. Sylvette had started to wear her hair in a very unique manner, after her father saw a ballet Greek drama and was enchanted by a woman with a ponytail worn high up on the crown of her head. He told Sylvette that she should wear her hair like this. Sylvette did this and loved it – it was such an unusual look ahead of fashion that lots of people commented upon and it was this feature that caught Picasso’s eye, fascinated by Greek mythology as he was.
‘Picasso was a comic, he liked laughing and joking and behaving like a bit of a clown – a clever one.’ ‘I love to paint figures quickly. He taught me a lot without saying a word’. She would sit for him in an armchair while Picasso painted her in his simple studio, surrounded by many pots. Francoise had left Picasso by this time and he was lost without his wife and two children. He told Sylvette that he found her company as a model of great consolation to him and gave her a portrait of her. She would not accept money to pose, as she realised this would make her obliged to be nude for him. She never posed naked, although he did paint a couple of paintings of her imagined unclothed. Picasso gave Lydia a huge amount of confidence in herself as a painter, although it was not until she was in her forties that she started to paint, once her children had grown.
Corbett moved to England in 1968 where she pursued her own painting career, presenting twelve solo exhibitions in London. In 1991 she exhibited in Japan, and in the United States of America in 2004. In 2014 an exhibition of her watercolours were shown at Theater Bremen, concurrently with a major exhibition of Picasso’s work inspired by her, ‘Sylvette, Sylvette, Sylvette’ held at the Kunsthalle Bremen. These two exhibitions were the subject of a film produced by ARTE broadcast in England and Germany. Solo exhibitions with David Simon Contemporary 2016 and 2019.