Imagine, if you will, an everyday scenario, such as an unusually large albino tapir visiting Hampton Court Palace, rolling itself in glue and through a series of mishaps becoming entangled in the curtains. The vision that emerges at the other end of this highly plausible chain of events might well look something like the extraordinary English poet Edith Sitwell, who died on this day in 1964. “Why not,” reasoned Sitwell, “be oneself? That is the whole secret of a successful appearance. If one is a greyhound, why try to look like a Pekingese?”
Descriptions of Sitwell by her contemporaries tend to draw on comparisons with exotic fauna or regal oddities, or sometimes both. “Her tall figure, swathed in black, looking like some strange eccentric bird,” said Alec Guinness, “she seemed like an ageing princess come home from exile.” Diana Vreeland famously paired Sitwell with Gertrude Stein as the most photogenic women of the 20th century.
Here, then, is a photographic tribute to the wax effigy features, elephantine bling and Gothic drapery which constitute Sitwellian glamour.