To add further poignancy to the painting, the sitter is Eileen Mayo D.B.E. R.A. (1906-1994), an artist and designer who worked in England, Australia and New Zealand. Recognised with a Dame-hood at the end of her life, her early life was marred with tragedy. In 1927, without family and in dire financial circumstances, she came close to drowning herself in the Serpentine. However, her fortunes were changed through her meeting with Laura Knight, who employed her as a model and subsequently appeared in many of her iconic paintings, Blue and Gold (1927), The Golden Girl (1927) and Dressing for the Ballet (1927). She also appears with Laura in the Pathé film 'Mrs Laura Knight - The Famous Artist' in 1927.
A strikingly, beautiful young woman, Eileen became much in demand in the 1930s by Laura's contemporaries, including Dod Proctor, Vanessa Bell, Mark Gertler and Duncan Grant, who described her as 'his muse'. The story of Eileen's dramatic turn in fortunes was told in an article in The Milwaukee Senitel 1st June 1928: 'Saved from suicide; snatched from existence worse than death - starving, friendless, discouraged, Eillen Mayo tells how she battled with despair and suddenly found herself surrounded with prosperity and fame, her portrait the centre of attraction in the Royal Academy exhibition in London.' In The Maiden, we see a liberated Eileen gloriously rendered under a Cornish blue sky.
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