Property Formerly from the Estate of Iya, Lady Abdy
Thence by Descent to the Present Owner

Lots 401-409

Iya, Lady Abdy (nee Iya Grigorievna de Gay) was born in St. Petersburg in 1897. During the Russian Revolution, her family fed to Finland bringing Iya with them, but later on as a young woman she moved to Paris. In 1923 she married Sir Robert Henry Edward Abdy (1896-1976). Iya, Lady Abdy was a sensational beauty, towering over 6 feet tall. She attracted photographers including Man Ray, Cecil Beaton and George Hoyningen Huene. In Paris society she frequented the salon of the Comtesse de Noailles, and became acquainted with luminaries such as Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau, and Louis Cartier. She also became the patroness of the artists Balthus and Derain.

In 1935, she provided the financial support for production of the controversial theatrical adaptation of Les Cenci by Antonin Artaud, in which she appeared in the starring role of Beatrice Cenci. A group of 10 watercolors by Balthus of costume designs for Les Cenci as well as two pen and ink drawings by Balthus and a portrait of Iya, Lady Abdy by Derain will be offered in Sotheby’s New York 12 March 2014 Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art including Russian Art.

In 1922, the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter ignited a blaze of Egypt-mania throughout Europe and the West. The introduction of decorative elements from this exotic culture into fne arts, interior design, fashion and jewelry was instantaneous. Louis Cartier had long been a collector of Egyptian antiquities, but with the onset of this renewed fervor for mystical relics of the past, he had the novel idea to mount some of his ancient Egyptian faience fragments into modern settings using platinum, diamonds and colored stones to bring them new life, or in other words, he “re-incarnated” them.


Iya, Lady Abdy in 1934
© Estate of Paul Tanqueray


Iya, Lady Abdy personified all that was chic and sophisticated, not only in her avante garde pursuit of the Arts, but also in the stylish fashions she wore and the significant jewels she chose to augment them. Evidence of this can be found in the image of her wearing the brooch (lot 407) in a Vogue illustration in 1928. As noted in the description of the faience fragment mounted in that brooch by Cartier, the hieroglyph translates as “wife of the King.” Iya, Lady Abdy had about her a regal manner and so it was a fitting choice to complement her personality. The faience fragment of the statuesque lioness Sekhmet is a forceful representation of the bejeweled goddess, her name derived from the ancient Egyptian word meaning “powerful one.”

One of Iya, Lady Abdy’s closest friends was Princess Natalie Paley (Mrs. John Chapman Wilson). Born Countess Natalie Pavlovna von Hohenfelsen in 1905, she was the daughter of Grand Duke Alexandrovich, uncle of the last Russian Czar Nicholas II. Natalie escaped Russia with her mother and sister, and lived in exile in Paris during the 1920s.  Iya, Lady Abdy and Princess Natalie Paley had much in common; Natalie becoming a noted model for Vogue, she was also photographed by Steichen, Horst and Beaton.  One muses if Natalie might have introduced to her Linda Lee Porter (Mrs. Cole Porter) who commissioned Egyptian Revival jewels from Cartier as well.

This collection of rare objects also includes a “Comet” clock, another of Cartier’s unique inventions.  It is also not surprising to see the precious enamel locket by the House of Fabergé, featuring a tender portrait of the young Alexei Tsarevich, given Iya, Lady Abdy’s ties to Russian royalty. As a group, the objects with their timeless appeal, are a magnificent tribute to the life of an extraordinary individual with impeccable taste and a sense of grandeur.