Art is 100 at UFMA: Portrait of Natacha Rambova

To kick off the year-long Art is 100 celebration, we’ve
chosen to feature first on our Highlights Wall a painting
that many visitors list among their favorite works—even
without knowing its interesting backstory. The Portrait of
Natacha Rambova was presented in 1949 by her mother,
Mrs. Richard A. (Winnifred Kimball) Hudnut, as part of
the donation that helped create the Utah Museum of Fine
Arts. When Rambova learned that this portrait would be
on display for the UMFA’s 1951 opening, she immediately
wrote to the museum director, asking that her name not
be attached to the work. Rambova, who would donate her
Egyptian collection to the Museum in 1952, cited concerns
that supporting the fledgling Museum would conflict with
her funding from the Bollingen Foundation, which was
financing her work studying Ramses Vl’s tomb art. Family
history, however, suggests another reason: While sitting
for the portrait in 1925, Rambova wore a very bohemian
outfit, much to her mother’s displeasure. Mrs. Hudnut
instructed the painter, Pavle Jovanovic, to substitute what
was, in her view, a more suitable dress.The result was a
mishmash: Rambova’s distinctive headwear paired with
a dress that was more to her mother’s taste. Although
the painting—with the generic title Portrait of a Lady-
was popular whenever it was on display, thanks to her
mother’s sartorial meddling, Rambova herself could never
stand it.
Portrait of Natacha Rambova will be on display in spring
2014, the work’s first time on view since the frame was
restored in 2012 through a gift from The Joy Kingston
Foundation and Chairman/CEO Paul Matthew Layne.