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Dame Freya Madeline Stark

Dame Freya Madeline Stark, by Herbert Olivier, 1923 - NPG 5465 - © estate of Herbert Olivier

© estate of Herbert Olivier

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Dame Freya Madeline Stark

by Herbert Olivier
oil on canvas, 1923
24 3/8 in. x 21 7/8 in. (619 mm x 555 mm)
Given by Dame Freya Madeline Stark, 1981
Primary Collection
NPG 5465

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This portraitback to top

Freya's early years were spent abroad, where she learned several languages. When her parents parted, her mother set up a factory in Italy making baskets and rugs. Aged twelve, Freya's long hair became entangled in one of the machines, tearing away her right ear and some of her scalp. Painted in a demure 'aesthetic' dress, her hair is characteristically pulled over her right ear to hide a childhood injury.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 89 Read entry

    Courageous explorer and doyenne of travel writers Dame Freya Madeline Stark (1893-1993) ventured into regions – from Syria to southern Arabia – where borders were vague and political forces unpredictable. She was often the first European woman that local people had ever seen. Convinced that the death of her sister Vera in 1926 had been hastened by strictures imposed by others on how she should live, Stark herself vowed to lead her own life, leaving for Lebanon to learn Arabic in 1927. During the Second World War, this enabled her to assist an anti-Axis propaganda campaign. She worked for the British Ministry of Information in Aden, Iraq and Egypt, where she founded the Brotherhood of Freedom. As an authority on the Middle East, she earned awards from the Royal Asiatic Society (in 1934) and the Royal Geographical Society (in 1942), and was created a Dame in 1972. Stark published thirty books during her long career. In her major work The Valley of the Assassins (1934), she wrote: ‘The great and almost only comfort about being a woman is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised.’

  • Birkett, Dea; Morris, Jan (foreword), Off the Beaten Track: Three Centuries of Women Travellers, 2004 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 7 July to 31 October 2004), p. 38
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 584

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Events of 1923back to top

Current affairs

Stanley Baldwin begins the first of three terms of government as Conservative Prime Minister following the resignation of Andrew Bonar Law.

Art and science

Bolton Wanderers beat West Ham United in the first FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. The Cup Final was held at Wembley every year except during the war until 2000.

International

Hitler attempts to take power in Germany with the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. On the 8th November Hitler and the SA stormed a meeting of the ruling 'triumvirs' forcing them to support a march on Berlin. The coup, however, failed and Hitler was arrested and sentences to five years in prison.

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