Photographs by Madame Yevonde, 1930s
Yevonde (1893-1975), whose motto was "be original or die", dressed and styled Society figures of the day as subjects from Greek and Roman Mythology. Women such as Mrs Michael Balcon (wife of the film director), Lady Malcolm Campbell, (wife of the speed racer) and Lady Bridget Poulett (daughter of Earl Poulett) were styled to appear as figures from a mythical time, such as Arethusa, Goddess of Fountains, the weeping Niobe, and Minerva, Goddess of War. Yevonde Philone Cumbers was born in London, but partially educated at boarding schools on the continent. She joined the women's suffrage movement in 1910 and, after seeing an advertisement in The Suffragette, decided to become a photographer's apprentice. Quickly mastering the business, as a pupil of the leading West End photographer Madame Lallie Charles of Curzon Street, Yevonde decided to set up her own studio in 1914, adopting her first name and previous employer's term of address. Business prospered, her reputation grew, and in 1921 Yevonde addressed the Professional Photographers`Association, causing controversy in the male-dominated profession by asserting women's superior abilities as portraitists. Her work in colour began in the early 1930s and continued until 1940 when the factory making the materials closed down. Yevonde continued to take photographs until her retirement in 1971 when she generously presented her surviving exhibition prints from her sixty-year career to the National Portrait Gallery. Since then these portraits have attracted considerable critical acclaim and have been seen in international exhibitions, securing Yevonde's position as an important innovator in the history of art and photography.