Salvador Dali's “most magnificent women in Paris”
04 December, 2014
Salvador Dali's “most magnificent women in Paris”
Among Salvador Dali’s few close friends were those whom he considered to be “the most magnificent women in Paris” – Bettina Berger, Coco Chanel and Rusudan “Roussie” Mdivani. “In order to prove how much I loved her it would be sufficient to say that Rusudan was a spitting image of Vermeer’s painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, now kept at La Haye Museum,” Salvador Dali once said.

"In order to prove how much I loved her it would be sufficient
to say that Rusudan was a spitting image of Vermeer’s painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, now kept at La Haye Museum”

Rusudan Daushvili, a Georgian historian, has some amazing information about her noble namesake. She shared with us the following:
In the 1920-30s, five children of General Zakaria (also known as Shakro) ended up becoming the center of Europe’s and America’s collective attention. A good half of the world’s press wrote about them regularly. Their names circulated in rumors, in elite magazines right next to those of Hollywood stars and other well-known personalities, in literature and in movies. The members of the Mdivani family were equally praised and disparaged. One particular epithet ended up sticking to them all: “Marrying Mdivani,” referring to the number of their marriages.
Known for her beauty and talent for sculpting, Rusudan Mdivani became an apprentice to Spanish artist Josep Maria Sert, who was considered the greatest artist in all of Paris before the emergence of Picasso. Besides his work, Sert was also known for his scandalous wife, Misia Godebska (Natanson) – a talented pianist, the closest friend of Coco Chanel, a model for Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec, a muse of Mallarmй and a prototype for characters in books by Proust and Cocteau. The love triangle turned out to be quite raucous – a 53-year-old Misia, her 50-year-old husband, Josep Sert, and Rusudan Mdivani, a 20-year-old sculptor and a soon-to-be model for Lanvin.
In his book “Coco Chanel” Henry Gidel reveals how Rusudan’s and Josep’s romance began. In 1925, Rusudan visited Josep in his villa, which also served as his workshop, for advice on sculpture. He was attracted by the girl’s erudition and offered her to become his apprentice, to which she agreed. Daily classes in statuary art didn’t last long. Very soon, Rusudan became Sert’s model. Misia, who was used to women visiting her husband’s workshop, became very suspicious at the awe in her husband’s tone whenever he talked about his new model. Eventually she met Sert’s new passion, but this tall, blonde girl with hazel eyes and an angelic smile radiated such happiness and kindness that Misia simply could not see her as an enemy. It seems that Rusudan’s brothers displayed this rare talent for attracting and charming people as well, judging by what the newspapers called “Mdivani’s Spell.”
Rusudan and Misia quickly became close friends. The trio became a frequent sight, giving birth to all sorts of unhealthy rumours among their society. According to Henry Gidel, 53-year-old Misia, who never had children with any of her husbands, had some sort of motherly instinct towards Rusudan. Both Sert and Misia idolized her, each of them loving her in their own way. Eventually Sert decided to divorce Misia and marry Rusudan, but the former remained as his friend and his art’s most objective critic. It is interesting how even the divorce didn’t sour Misia’s love for the sculptor’s apprentice. She even helped Rusudan prepare for the wedding, complete with asking Coco Chanel to tailor the wedding gown and coming along with Sert to help him select a ruby-adorned ring and a necklace for his bride.
geotv.geSert built an entire palace for his new wife in Palamos, Spain, which became a gathering place for Paris’s entire upper crust during the summers. The building became the prime focus of European press whenever Rusudan’s siblings visited her as well. The newlywed girl was the life and soul of the party and enjoyed universal adoration. Among the palace’s visitors was the great artist Salvador Dali, who named “most magnificent women in Paris” – Bettina Berger, Coco Chanel and Rusudan – as his closest friends. He and his wife Gala were a common sight at the Palamos residence. “I and Gala planned to spent just a week there, but our time there was cut short by a car crash in which Duke Aleksi Mdivani and Baroness Maud von Thyssen-Bornemisza died,” wrote the artist on the tragedy that occurred in the summer of 1935 (the Baroness actually survived the accident with light injuries).
Then to her despair, Sergi Mdivani, her elder brother, died after falling off a horse during a ride in Florida. News of this proved fatal to Rusudan, who was already depressed after Aleksi’s death. “Rusudan, Aleksi’s sister, could not bear the sorrow and crumbled like alabaster within four years… In order to prove how much I loved her it would be sufficient to say that Rusudan was a spitting image of Vermeer’s painting of a young girl, now kept at La Haye Museum,” Salvador Dali wrote. Misia didn’t leave Rusudan’s side until the very end. Shaken by death of the brothers, Misia and Coco took their tuberculosis-addled friend to Switzerland for treatment. But despite their efforts, Rusudan died in 1938, at the age of 32. Misia mourned her untimely death for years, refusing to take off a medallion carrying Rusudan’s image even at her own deathbed. Our saga of the Mdivani family will continue next week with the story of Roussie’s brother Alex.

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