Ripley Auctions

Lot 107

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Description: Yolanda Pauline Tamara Sonnabend
portrait of Marie Sonnabend
oil on canvas
From the personal collection of Maestro Raymond Leppard (1927-2019).

double signed verso.

Biography from the archives of AskArt: Sonnabend was born on March 26, 1935, in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to a German father and a Russian mother. She grew up in “a house full of art objects, good design and music,” The Guardian said in its obituary.

Ms. Sonnabend studied art in Geneva before enrolling at the Slade School, where she studied under the Greek-born designer Nicholas Georgiadis. (He first worked with MacMillan on Danses Concertantes in 1955 and had a highly successful career as a stage designer. He died in 2001.)

It was Mr. Georgiadis who recommended Ms. Sonnabend to Mr. Wright for A Blue Rose, which introduced her to the ballet world and more specifically MacMillan, who was seeking innovative designs for his expressionist, often psychologically fraught pieces.

Ms. Sonnabend went on to design most of his best-known works during a fertile period, 1975 to 1986, among them Requiem, My Brother, My Sisters and Different Drummer. (This last collaboration involved a rare falling-out, after MacMillan decided at the last minute to scrap her scenery designs, though he kept the costumes.)

Ms. Sonnabend developed a certain understanding with MacMillan in their working relationship.

He liked “to feel he’d generated the designs, though he didn’t tell you much in advance,” she was quoted as saying in Jann Parry’s biography of MacMillan, Different Drummer (2009).

She added: “I’d do lots and lots of sketches, listening to the music — and then do as my assistant told me: ‘Put the one you really like face down on the floor, so Kenneth will pick it up and think he found it.’ ”

In the Opera House interview she commented: “It’s a very strange and intimate thing a designer has with a choreographer. It’s like the portrait painter and the sitter — you give each other a kind of power. The choreographer uses you, because you have a different way of seeing.”

MacMillan, who was knighted by the British crown, died in 1992.

Ms. Sonnabend had a parallel career as a painter and portraitist; the physicist Stephen Hawking, the actor and theater director Steven Berkoff and MacMillan were among her subjects. Nine of her pieces are in the collection of London’s National Portrait Gallery, and a major retrospective of her work was held at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1985-86.

She also taught theatrical design at the Slade and at the Camberwell and Wimbledon art schools in England while maintaining a lively social life at her house in North London, which guests described as stuffed with cats, half-built sets, masks, fabrics, dolls and obscure objects.
15 1/2"H x 11 1/2"W (image) 20"H x 16 1/4"W (frame)

  • Dimensions: 15 1/2"H x 11 1/2"W (image) 20"H x 16 1/4"W (frame)
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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January 16, 2021, 11:00 AM EST

Indianapolis, IN, US

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