Photo credit: Museums & Galleries Edinburgh – City of Edinburgh Council
We know that the sitter in Strang's painting was called Hélène Cox. The National Galleries of Scotland has this engraving. The British Museum has two (unfortunately without images).
There was an accomplished bookbinder of that name. Hélène Cox is mentioned in Wikipedia’s article on the Guild of Women Bookbinders, also by Marianne Tidcombe, ‘Women Bookbinders, 1880–1920’ and Stephen J. Gertz, ‘The Guild of Women Bookbinders: Bound to be Great’, among others.
In 2005, Lyon & Turnbull sold a beautiful binding attributed to Cox, described as ‘A magnificent example of the work of the Guild of Women Binders, involving some 600 inlays, attributed in a pencilled note at the front to Hélène Cox, one of a group of women in the Guild noted for specialising in gold tooled or inlaid bindings.’
William Strang was based in London after he moved down from the west of Scotland to study at the Slade in 1875. Could he have met Cox in London through one of the societies based there?
The collection comments: ‘It would be really good to find something that proved definitively that the sitter in the painting and prints is the same Hélène Cox who worked as a book binder. It would also be great to find out how the two artists knew each other, or to what extent they knew each other. It's very exciting that we're starting to get somewhere with identification, as we previously had no information at all regarding the sitter.’
This discussion is now closed. We reached the conclusion that the sitter in this portrait is probably Hélène Yelin, née Cox (b.c.1894/5–d. before 1973), a singer and artists’ model who also sat for William Patrick Roberts (1895–1980), Jacob Kramer (1892–1962) and Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) in the 1920s.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.
It would be interesting to know more about the sitter. And how she came to sit to the artist.
I've launched a search on gallica.bnf, concerning that this woman seems , for her name , "Héléne" , french . It comes out an article published over a journal , La Justice, Journal Politique du Matin , of 12 th June 1900 that makes a connection between US. and France. It reports into the section called Monde lirique of a certain "Hélèn Cox the charming and spiritual companion of the american M. Cox that has boarded on the the transatlantic , directed to Chicago . (...)" (https://rapportgallica.bnf.fr/rapport.html?query=arkPress all "cb32802914p/date" and (gallica adj "Hélène Cox")) .
Was eventually this Helene the bookbinder which work seems testified by a little number of productions?
Doing a search another time for the same association of name and surname on the London Gazzette , come out a notice of bankruptcy on the issue of 24th April 1931 (https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/33710/page/2706)
Making some searches on eventual links between W . Strand and Karlsake , it emerged that the George Framton (ANDREW LIZZARD, The sculptor George Framton , Phd dissertation , Dept. of Fine Arts, University of Leeds, June 1999, p. p. 191, 217, 305) that has executed in 1903 a bust of William Strang , in 1890 have sculpted a plaster , exhibited into RA in 1890 , representing certain "Mary and Agnes , daughters of L Karlslake". Maybe this Karlslake was a brother, or relative to the most famous Frank? For sure this is a complicated search because it requires to rebuilt the life of an unknown person. Maybe getting a look into ancestry, or some historical journal databases is possible to find something more .
PS. I have made a mistake before, by sending the message without having completed it yet .
Can't find anyone with that name listed on any census as being a bookbinder or even similar.
There is, however, a Helene Marie Cox on the 1911 Census, born in France in 1865 , a professor of languages. The only pitfall in considering her is that she was previously a Helene Marie Petithomme and didn't marry her husband Thomas Cox until 1908, four years after the Guild of Women Bookbinders had ceased operation. Although a professor of languages the bookbinding to such a high standard could have been a hobby rather than a profession. I have done an extensive search for a professional bookbinder with the name Helene Cox and nothing has emerged. Her address in 1911 was:315 B West End Lane, West End Mansions, West Hampstead N W
I suppose she could have had a French colonial background, but then it would make more sense for her to have been active in Paris, unless she was married to an Englishman.
Also this is in the London Gazette for 1927: COX, Helene, trading and described in the Receiving Order as-CLAUD NEILSON and SONS, 6. Bury-court, St. Mary Axe, London, E.C. MERCHANT. Court—HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE: No. of Matter—643 of 1927.
Victor, I suppose it's possible that the wife of an American writer leaving France for Chicago in 1900 could also have been a bookbinder in England in 1901...but is it likely? I think you need more evidence than a coincidence of names. I also don't understand where you got the names Strand and Karslake from - what have they to do with Helene Cox?
There are several Helene Coxes in English genealogical records, but as Wendy says, none of them seems to have a connection to bookbinding & books or arts & crafts of any sort - most, indeed, are not of a background that seems likely to be associated with it (e.g. working-class wives with many children). Though Helene Marie is perhaps of the right social milieu, I didn't pursue her because of the obvious problem that she wasn't called Cox in 1901. It's just possible she was already living with her husband-to-be Thomas Matthews Cox seven years before their marriage, and calling herself 'Cox', but there's no evidence of it - indeed I can find neither of them in the 1901 Census at all, so they may have been in France and met there.
The Helene Cox whose City of London-based company went bankrupt in 1927 actually lived in Glenfield Rd, Balham. She doesn't seem to be in the 1911 Census at all (and certainly wasn't at Glenfield Rd), but she is in various directories & electoral registers 1915-30. Fortunately in one of those years (1918) a William James Cox is listed too, and he turns out to have been her father. And though the family's social standing is suitable (her younger sister was a music teacher in 1911), this Helene was born (at Daventry) in August 1884, which means she was only 16 or 17 in 1901 - too young, I feel, to be capable of the highest quality decorative bookbinding.
I think we have to separate the two Helene Coxes for the time being, rather than working from an assumption that they are the same person; and to be frank I am doubtful that they are.
Strang's sitter looks to me like a model. The painting's title 'Dreams' certainly suggests this (assuming it's the original one), and I can't imagine that any woman sitting for a portrait as herself in 1913-15 would have posed with her blouse open to below her bosom - it would have been quite shockingly immodest. Artistic people can be pretty wild and daring, it's true; but I think the infinitely slow, careful and refined processes involved in tooling and gilding leather, and the rather solitary life that sort of thing involves, are a very different type of artistic expression.
I do actually have one candidate for her, a singer who in 1916 married a probably Jewish composer / music teacher when she was five months pregnant, bore a son they named (truly!) Abdul Almos Athanasius Wladimer Feodor Tristram (though his birth was not registered, at least in England), and then had an affair with another man the following year. But she was much too young to have been a bookbinder in 1901, and perhaps too young to have been Strang's model in 1913-15.
I have to leave things for now but will come back later, when everyone's opinions on the age of the woman will be sought!
The Leamington Spa Courier, of Friday 4th November 1932, describes a painting by Strang thus:
""Dreams" by William Strang is a fine portrait study in expression which is rather spoiled by an unimaginative placing of the subject's hands".
The exhibition in which "Dreams" appear was a group show of the work of Scottish artists at the Leamington Art Gallery. The collection was on loan from the Scottish Modern Arts Association.
A fairly obvious point, so far unstated, is that the ethnicity of this good-looking young female sitter is what the assertively politically correct would today call 'Black' with a capital 'B', though in strictly genetic terms probably of 'mixed race'. If the latter description has now been added to the 'index expurgatorius' of 'acceptable' current usage, then I can only apologise for not yet having caught up on what has replaced it.
While the girl's subsequent profession could in theory have been anything, I suspect that if the book-binder Helene Cox was also of mixed ethnicity that would be a 'known known'. No-one has said so here, nor does it appear otherwise obvious, so I assume she wasn't.
The probability, as Osmund and the title both suggest, is that this 'Helene Cox' is not the bookbinder but a young and coincidental namesake. Whether a professional model or not she was willing to sit in this mode at the time (1913) for a painter known, in the National Gallery of Scotland's words, for work ranging from 'intense portraits to scenes of working class life...'. In this case it looks like an element of both in showing a girl in rather 'hand-me-down' dress who 'Dreams' of something better to come.
It might worth noting that Strang drew a portrait of H. Cox, etched by his son David, who might be related to this sitter:
Yes, Pieter, the sitter was obviously a person of colour, which is why I previously suggested a French colonial background, either immediate or more removed. I agree that her being a model or simply someone Strang knew seems more likely than her being the book-binder.
The company Claude Neilson of St Mary Axe were merchants with the West India Company. Helene Cox seemed to be in charge because she is the one named when the company went bankrupt in 1927. I had wondered if this might be something to do with this model's country of origin.
I have seen a snippet on Google Books, but can't seem to find out more, about a person called Hubert-Madox Khnopff and his wife Helene Cox. Hélène was the wife of Hubert-Madox Khnopff, son of Georges Khnopff, a nephew of the painter Ferdinand Khnopff - at least there is an artistic connection. I get the impression they were Belgian.
I have just found a remarkable article about Helene Cox and her husband Vladimir (Walter) Zalin (or Yelin). He was an army deserter in WW1 and when his wife saw him, she went after him and was described in he newspaper as 'a woman of colour'. I think that although she might not be the bookbinder, she could almost certainly be the model.
This is the link to the article. Walter Yelin is the same man as Walter or Vladimir Zalin. He and his companion are in other articles which confirm his name. He is described as a teacher of music and a lecturer, Russian by birth with long hair and a striking appearance.
http://www.englishcubist.co.uk/creole.html. Yes Helene Yelin nee Cox was an artist's model here is a link to a picture done of her in 1923
https://readingmedievalbooks.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/14299/. Another work with Helene Yelin as the model.
AKA Helene Yelin-Cox
Maurizio Cardaci saved to William Patrick Roberts in Pittura. Cubismo
“The Creole” (aka Portrait of a Negress – Hélène Yelin) by British artist William Patrick Roberts, 1923. The model for ‘The Creole’ was mixed race Londoner Mrs Helène Yelin, who also posed for a bust by Epstein of 1919. The same model appears in Roberts’s ‘The Joke’, 1923.
So to answer the original question, she is not the bookbinder. :)
No: but clearly a known artist's model, so can any more of her history be retrieved? She was presumably born somewhere in the mid-1890s to general appearances.
Harlequin Tea Rooms. Situated on Beak Street, just off London’s bustling Regent Street, the Harlequin became a hub for artists, models and muses in the 1920s, and in his later memoir Roberts recalled:
‘The Harlequin was becoming popular, due no doubt to is feminine patrons, whose vocal talents turned the place at times into a sort of Café Chantant, when the dark-skinned Hélène sang the “Raggle Taggle Gypsies, O!”’
Brilliant, Wendy - that is indeed the woman I was proposing; but I hadn't done any further research and it was only conjecture, based partly on her and Yelin's son being called 'Abdul', and partly on the lack of any other appearances by either of them (bar her second marriage to Khnopff in 1952, I think) that suggested they were of the sort of demi-monde that often supplies artists' models. I'd surmised that one or both of them might have been the sort of people that get washed up in big cities in times of war - perhaps refugees from the war in the Near East or indeed Belgium (I found a Belgian reference to a Helene Cox but couldn't make it fit in with the rest).
Attached is her first marriage certificate to Walter, alias Wladimer Zalin, along with other pages from the divorce petition by him against her and a man called Alexis Gellman as co-respondent. Though the petition was rejected, I found another reference to Gellman as a lover of married women, so it was probably true.
The other Helene Cox (of the City & Balham) is almost certainly unconnected. Helene Cox/Zalin/Khnopff is stated in the marriage certificate to have been 21 in March 1916, so if accurate (far from certain) born in 1894 or early ’95. Her father is given as Henry Cox (deceased), though I wouldn’t necessarily trust that either. If true he could in fact be the ‘H. Cox’ of the Strang etching found by Kieran. I haven’t so far found any suitable birth record for Helene in the UK, nor any UK Census appearance by her and a father of that name.
However Cox is a very common name, and it’s hard or impossible to know if she was always called Helene. I had a Great Aunt who was christened Helen, later liked to be known as Helene, and eventually settled on Helena, officially and not. That was innocent enough, but I also had a grandmother christened Edith in a horrid part of industrial Cumberland who later called herself Beryl, double-barrelled her surname, invented a new name and army rank for her father (Major - in fact he never served at all), and claimed to have been born in Bilbao.
People who want to change their lives are often, well, economical with the truth.
I wonder if Gellman was the lover or they arranged 'an affair' for the purposes of divorce as they weren't easy to get in those days. Gellman appears in the newspaper report when Walter Yelin returned to Belsize Park and Helene ran after him shouting about him deserting from the army. I felt that Gellman was a friend and may have obliged for the purposes of the divorce, but may be wrong. These are absolutely fascinating people, with their story worthy of a film or television production. Helene apparently has been in the news recently as regards the Black Lives Matter movement and her image sculpted by Epstein.
As the daughter of the deceased Henry Cox, if her age of 21 on her marriage 1916 certificate is to be believed, Hélène Cox was born in c.1895. In the December 1894 quarter, there is a birth registered in St. Olave Southwark district for an Helena Cox, who might be our sitter.
As Osmund has mentioned, Walter, alias Wladimer Zalin (though not as Yelin) married Hélène Cox, which ceremony took place in London on the 14th March 1916. Their son, as Abdul A. A. W. F. T. Yelin (though not Zalin) arrived four months later, on the 17th July 1916, his birth being registered in Bromley, Kent. Using a shorter, and possibly preferred name of Tristram, he died at Lindhead Lodge, Harwood Dale, Scarborough, on the 30th January 1982, leaving an estate valued at £56,844, and is buried at Cloughton Church Cemetery.
It might be a coincidence of surnames, but it would appear that a second son, Alexander T. Yelin, was born in London towards the end of 1918. His birth registration names his mother as Cox. If he is their son, his conception could have taken place before the 21st March petition for his parents' divorce.
Between 1921 and 1923, Hélène Yelin was living, without other family members, at 138, Albany Road, London.
Under either name of Zalin or Yelin, she does not appear in the 1939 Register.
In the March 1950 quarter, at Marylebone, Hélène married Jules H. Khnopff, her surname appearing in the marriage register index as "Yelin or Zalin")
The Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique holds a collection of art materials by the Belgian artist Fernand Khnopff (1858 - 1921), acquired in 1973 in Bruxelles from Jean Willems, as an old collection belonging to Hélène Khnopff:
If this is our sitter, it is quite possible that Hélène spent the latter years of her life in Belgium.
The Year's Art (Volume 37, Page 319, 1916) references "Dreams" by Strang. If anyone has a full copy of that publication, perhaps they could post the relevant text, as it might indicate where the work was exhibited.
This begins to sound like our own 'Fanlight Fanny' ('there's a jazz-queen she's a has-been /Has been Lord knows what' etc) with an unlikely but, I hope, happily quiet end as a Belgian bourgeoise if that can be pinned down. 'Ancienne collection' just means 'formerly in the collection of' so the Khnopf sketchbook is probably no more than studio material she was left with rather than indicating she was a 'collector'. More please...
It's amazing what one can find if one keeps on looking. The attached article, from The Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee), of 29th January 1939, might throw some more light on the whole story. It does, usefully, confirm that Hélène had two children and also that she appeared to be living in Bruxelles in 1939. Perhaps there is a record in the Divorce Courts for this case between January and March of that year. It certainly suggests that she was taking the offensive as the wronged woman in the proceedings.
Osmund, your excellent sleuthing in the Belgian records might be of use at this stage in the story.
A slightly different version (attached) of Wendy's army deserter story of yesterday appeared in the Aberdeen Evening Express of Monday 7th January 1918.
This discussion's initial question has surely now been answered. If our sitter is the Hélène Cox who was born in c.1895 (accepting, as recorded, that she was 21 at the time of her marriage in 1916), she definitely cannot be Hélène Cox the bookbinder, who was exhibiting with the Guild of Women Bookbinders in c.1900.
so if Helene was born at end of 1895, she would have been 17 going on 18 when drawn by Strang for the engraving now in NGS ? that was the basis for 'Dreams'
what about the striking headware/turban? with ribbon threaded through. Was that a fashion?
On August 15th 1946 she writes to Alice Toklas from 1 Rue de Florence, Brussels, which might be her residence there.
Tim, could you cite the source for your posting?
Not the end of 1895, Jan, but perhaps the beginning...and the conclusion is a bit broader than that. If - IF - she really was 21 on 14/3/1916, she was born between 15/3/1894 and 14/3/1895; and that in turn means that in 1913 (Jan 1 - Dec 31) she was somewhere between 17¾ and 19¾. However, the date recorded for the print may perhaps be uncertain. It is not, I think, written on any of the three copies Marion linked us to (see intro – the plate became damaged and was abandoned by the artist); and I *believe* that David Strang deduced some dates circumstantially in his 1962 complete catalogue of his father’s prints. I may be wrong about that, and we certainly need to look at it, as well as the earlier Laurence Binyon catalogue.
In any case, as previously suggested, her age at marriage may well be self-reported and unreliable – huge numbers of ages in official records are demonstrably wrong, and this becomes commoner the further back you go in time. In the early C20th people routinely lied for myriad reasons, particularly women when marrying someone younger, and others simply didn't know. If she was Egyptian in origin, as Hilde Spiel believed (https://bit.ly/3oT3y7b), when she was actually born is likely to be anyone's guess.
Kieran, Tim's source is the hyperlink to it at Yale shown (with several others) in the link immediately above in my post...or if you want to go to it direct, https://bit.ly/3mkaRmp.
In "The Dark and the Bright: Memoirs 1911-1989", by Hilde Speil, the following line can be found:
"I visited Antwerp with Hélène Yelin, an Egyptian friend of Paul's and Richard's."
Hilde Speil (b. 1911) was an author, journalist, and grand dame of Austrian literature who had emigrated to London in 1936, returning to Austria for the first time in 1946 as correspondent for the New Statesman.
Sotheby's catalogue entry for 'The Joke', mentioned by Wendy, above, also gives a few more details:
"In 'The Joke', Roberts captures the dimly lit interior from a slightly elevated perspective.....with Hélène seated to the right of Kramer, enthralled by the joke that he is telling. Married to a musician, Hélène and her two sons lived next door to the Roberts’ in Albany Street in the 1920s, and became a frequent sitter for Roberts as well as other artists including Kramer and Jacob Epstein (who produced a bronze bust of her in 1919)."
Yes, Hélène does seem to have been living in Brussels in August 1946, four years before her marriage to (Jules) Hubert Khnopff, as she seems to have been too in Jan 1939 (as per the divorce proceedings report). The letter talks of "our first thought" and "as we do", which suggests she and he may already have been a couple.
By Dec 1952, and now married, she was at the Château de et à Bodeghem St Martin (Sint-Martens-Bodegem) – see attached engagement notice for her son Tristram**. It's just 10 miles outside Brussels (https://bit.ly/3gHHLw8), and apparently the Khnopff family home – Hubert had been born there in June 1898 according to this: https://bit.ly/348vLir. He may have installed Helene at 1 rue de Florence, conveniently close, as his mistress – or of course it may just have been their joint town pied-à-terre.
**The same announcement talks of the “the late Walter Yelin”. It occurs to me that if her 1939 petition to divorce Walter failed because he could not be traced, she and Hubert may have had to wait until he was legally declared dead. We won’t be able to get further details of the divorce proceedings, as they’ve only been scanned and uploaded to Ancestry up to 1918. In any case papers after 1938 have been and still are routinely destroyed, according to the National Archives, just a handful being retained “to illustrate the changing nature of divorce”. See https://bit.ly/3nfbgIc.
Looking again at the whole file of Wladimer's failed 1918 divorce petition (or what's left of it after the official weeding), I see the later proceedings by Hélène against him are briefly referred to on the first page (they began in 1938). In case there's anything else relevant I've missed I'm attaching a pdf of all the 1918 file pages that are not blank.
Thank you for typically spectacular progress! Bravo, Wendy, for finding the right Helene so fast, and to all for adding so much more over the weekend.
Tristram Yelin (who died in 1982) and his wife Elizabeth Rosalind Buxton, had three children:
• Cecilia Mary Yelin, born 5th May 1954
• Francis North Hunter Buxton Yelin, born 18th February 1957
• Natasha Vera Yelin, born 31st October 1959
They are mentioned in this family history:
Osmund, in case you missed it, the 1938 divorce proceedings are the ones referred to in my posting above of 13/12/2020 02:03.
Tristram Yelin had been a schoolmaster at The Leas School, Hoylake; St. Peter's Court, Broadstairs; Ludgrave; Abberley Hall School; and Bramcote School.
Kieran, thank you – it would be a great help if you could contact Francis Yelin.
Kieran, I don’t think we can assume that Helene was living at 138 Albany Road in 1921-23 “without other family members”. The references you found are, I think, in the Electoral Registers, and there are many reasons why people don’t appear in those...especially children! Oh, and course I didn't miss your post about the 1938/39 divorce proceedings - that was clearly (at least to me) what I was referring to when I talked of "the later proceedings by Hélène against him".
I think it may not be the best idea to keep digging into this when we already know quite enough. If it were concerning an artist, that would be more justifiable, but I don't think any more detail is necessary about the sitter.
I have some sympathy with that view, Jacinto. But as the subject of portraits by at least three of the most renowned British artists of the early C20th, I think it’s inevitable that people will want to know as much about her as possible. Current race sensibilities will only intensify that interest, and even if we were to hold back you can be sure others will soon be digging and tweeting away for all they’re worth. We at least can make sure what is revealed is as accurate as possible.
Whether the artists concerned were mainly interested in her because of how she looked – and one should be aware of how unusual black faces were in London in the 1910s & 20s – or because of other personal qualities, we don’t as yet really know. Probably both, is my guess, as she was clearly someone more than able to hold her own in the world of arts and letters, at least at its more progressive edge. And that she and her son were later able to slide into a more traditional social milieu suggests she was equally comfortable in 'society'.
The attached turns what others have discovered above into a more narrative account. It sounds as though, with interesting connections throughout, she ended up 'well-fixed' in the end and whatever education she had shows well, as does her sympathy, in the 1946 letter to Alice Toklas.
If there's a database on artists' models of any period I don't know it, but she should be in it, and if more emerges, errors and gaps can be filled. A date of death must exist somewhere.
Pieter, thank you for the biographical notes on the sitter.
Jill Berk Jiminez, Dictionary of artists' models, Fitzroy Dearbon, London, 2001
There will be aricles on the subject as well
Thanks Martin: perhaps someone could say whether she is in it and, if so (and it's short) supply the entry.
The visit of Hilde Spiel (the correct spelling of her name) to Antwerp 'with Hélène Yelin, an Egyptian friend of Paul's and Richard's' (i.e. a friend of friends) and presumably in the 1936-39 period, as well as Hélène apparently living in Brussels by 1939 and for the latter part of her life, probably implies a pre-existing fluency in French. If one interprets 'Egyptian' as loosely meaning 'Levantine' in terms of her mother's origin, French could easily have been her 'first second language' from early childhood, whatever another 'first' one was. That would suggest birth in that area rather than in London: the 'Helena Cox' spotted as born about the same time in Southwark has already been noted as perhaps just a coincidence.
I’ve found a file in Army pension records (pdf attached) that sheds a different light on Walter Yelin’s character. I’m going to give quite full details, as the newspaper reports we’ve read and written about are pretty damning, and the record needs to be set straight. It’s also a good reminder not to believe everything you read in the papers. He undoubtedly had a very dark side which emerged in North Wales in Dec 1918, and for which he paid a heavy price*; but we can nevertheless say that by any fair and compassionate judgement he was NOT an army deserter.
(*The events alluded to above, discovered by Wendy, need not be spelled out, but can be found at https://bit.ly/2Wg41Us. I think it is fair to mention them, as they inform our understanding of how complicated and unusual Helene and Walter’s relationship must have been. One can imagine a lot of passion, jealousy and pain was involved, and the angry tit-for-tat attacks on each other seen in the divorce courts and on the streets of Belsize Park begin to make a bit more sense.)
It is certainly true that Walter was reluctant to serve in the forces, but he had good reason: while he may well have been a conscientious objector as well, he was in fact physically quite incapable of doing so. As a later medical report stated, “his sight is so defective as to render him useless for military duty” – he was blind in one eye, very short-sighted in the other, and had a number of other significant ailments, all of these from childhood...and the sight issue was getting worse.
I would guess, though, that he feared this might not disqualify him from military service, and the timing of his marriage to Helene on 14th Mar 1916 suggests it may have been prompted, at least in part, by them hoping to forestall his call-up. Under the Military Service Bill that introduced conscription in January 1916, every unmarried man between 18 and 41 had the choice to either (a) enlist at once, or (b) attest at once under the Derby Scheme (which took them into the Reserve, but not initially into active service). Failing that they would in March 1916 be automatically deemed to have enlisted. In May, however, the Bill was extended to married men, so Walter’s avoidance of service was short-lived. He enlisted (or was conscripted) on 30th Oct 1916, and went into the 301st Reserve Labour Corps, part of the West Surrey Regt from which he was later said to have deserted.
The claim made during the ‘desertion’ court case of 5th Jan 1918 that Yelin had been “shoved into the army without any medical examination” was doubtless true, as must have become apparent soon after he was handed over to the military by the court. What had followed and was described in court – running away and feigning suicide – was likely a panic-stricken reaction to being unable to get the physical exam he should have had when he was first called up, and probably triggered by an imminent move by his Corps from the Reserve to active status. For instead of being court-martialled by the army after they got him back, he was quickly seen by a medical board on 17th Jan and assessed as “permanently unfit for war service”, confirmed for discharge on the 30th, and on 20th Feb discharged from the army with a £20 gratuity – around £4 or 5K today relative to wages, and hardly the normal treatment meted out to deserters in time of war.
Mr. Francis Yelin, the grandson of our sitter, has written to say that he does not believe that the subject of 'Dreams' is his grandmother. She resembles no family photos or portraits that he has seen and he states that a comparison with Roberts’ 'Creole' should persuade (see attached). She did sit for Roberts, as for Epstein and others. He has added that, in case it is of interest, TE Lawrence, Freya Stark and several of England’s richest families also inhabited her circle. He says that she also worked as a fashion model. I have asked if he could furnish any specific details about her, such as the date and place of her death, but have not yet had a response. If one comes, I will post it here.
This reply raises the question as to where the attribution of Cox, as this portrait's sitter, originated. If it was from the annotated etching which caries the description of it being her, was that an informed identification by David Strang, who, having been born in 1887, would have been 28 at the time that the etching was made? Could he have made such a mistake?
Roberts had a more modernist style, but to my eye both pictures could well be of the same sitter.
The attached clipping shows the upshot for 'Romanoff Omar' of his collusion in hiding Walter Zalin/ Yelin as a deserter in 1918. Kindly supplied (without details) by a Yelin of my acquaintance but no known family connection with Walter (or Helene): but it was worth asking.
I m hesitant about getting even further from our central subject Hélène by following the fortunes of 'Om(m)ar/h', but he was also involved in Walter's later actions in North Wales, and shared his fate (see the link in the first of my three long posts above). Omar’s real name was believed to be Murray, the son of an office cleaner in Sydney, Australia.
Since we are diverting slightly, it may be the moment for some details of Walter's background. He was born at Manchester in Sep 1894, the third child (of 10) of Isaac Hyam Yelin (1863-1927) and Paulina née Esterson. Isaac was a rabbi and mohel, born at Grodno, a city with a complicated history but then part of Russian Poland. He had a semi-itinerant ministry in England in the 1890s, moving with his growing family from London to Canterbury, then Lincolnshire, Manchester and Newcastle, before returning to the East End in 1900, when Walter is recorded as being admitted to a local infant school. In Jan 1907 Isaac was naturalized a British subject, and in the 1911 Census we find the family still at the same address in Spitalfields; Walter, aged 16, is a music student, while his father’s profession is...well, if you don’t know what a mohel is, the attached census form makes it remarkably clear!
In local newspapers on the BNA there are a couple of minor references to Walter as a lecturer in music (Nov 1915), and as a musician (Jun 1916), but that’s really all we know until his appearance as part of Hélène’s life.
The conclusion of this discussion is that the sitter in this portrait is probably not the bookbinder Hélène Cox, about whom little is known, but possibly Hélène Yelin (née Cox), an artists’ model who sat for William Patrick Roberts (1895-1980), Jacob Kramer (1892-1962) and Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) in the 1920s. At this time Hélène Yelin, who was a woman of colour and possibly from Egypt or a French colony, was married to the musician Walter Yelin (or Vladimir Zalin) and living in Albany Street, London. The best-known depictions of her are a painting by Roberts from 1923, now in The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery (https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/portrait-of-a-negress-20100) and a portrait bust in bronze by Jacob Epstein, 1931 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge M.11-1931). She was also a model for Roberts’ painting The Joke, 1923, which was sold at Sotheby’s London in November 2018. Comparison between these images and Strang’s portrait suggest this identification is plausible.
The identification of the sitter in Dreams as Hélène Cox appears to be based on an inscription on the related engraving in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland (P 2333.713). The inscription is in pencil, at the lower left of the sheet, and was probably written by David Strang, the artist’s son and printer of the engraving, whose collection it came from. The British Museum also has an impression of this engraving (1953,0509.379) and another engraving of the same woman’s head (1954,0928.5), both of which previously belonged to David Strang. Neither of the British Museum prints has an identifying inscription.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion.
I attach is my updated summary on Hélène Cox as an interesting sitter: she appears to have had a chequered history, which can't have been easy but seems to have come to a comfortable conclusion: at least I hope so.
Sorry: re-attached with a couple of typo corrections that I missed and the discussion ref. added.