Today we are delighted to offer for sale a lovely oil on canvas portrait of Helen Huntington Hull. Mrs. Lytle Hull, born Helen Dinsmore Huntington (1893-1976) was an American heiress, socialite, arts patron, and political hostess. A brief biography of Helen Hull:
“She grew up in Rhinebeck, New York, at both her paternal mansion, Hopeland House, a 35-room Tudor Revival mansion designed by her father, and her maternal mansion, Staatsburg on Hudson. Huntington attended schools in Dobbs Ferry, New York. She married prominent businessman William Vincent Astor in 1914, and divorced him in 1941, marrying her second husband Lytle Hull in 1941. Huntington was a lover of music and opera (she attended her first opera when she was two) and therefore helped to found the New York City Center and the New York Opera Company. She was a patron of the Metropolitan Opera on Broadway. She owned two boxes at the opera house, one she used herself and one she kept for her guests. In 1966 she was among those who attended the closing gala at the Met on Broadway, and helped found its re-opening at the Lincoln Center. She attended the inauguration gala night at The Philharmonic Hall, directed by her friend Leonard Bernstein. Helen was the 1945 president of the Association of Major Symphony Orchestra Volunteers. In 1941, Helen inherited Staatsburg on Hudson from her maternal grandfather, William Brown Dinsmore II, head of Adams Express Company, a railroad and shipping concern. She demolished the previous mansion to build a much lighter house, known as Locusts on Hudson, that was designed by architect John Churchill in the Neobaroque style (see last photo). Her family had deep roots in politics. At Locusts on Hudson, she held her gala fund raising events and raised her six dogs, and at Hopeland House, she hosted her Republican political fund raising events, attended by the likes of former U.S. presidents Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Helen was bisexual. Even while married to Astor in 1914, they mostly led separate lives until their divorce, with Huntington preferring the company of her female friends. Glenway Wescott once called her “a grand old lesbian”. She died on December 14, 1976, after a fall at her Locusts on Hudson mansion. The day of her death, the president of the New York Philharmonic, Carlos Moseley, opening the night at the Avery Fisher Hall, said that Helen Huntington Hull was “one of the great music lovers and benefactors of our time”. Huntington is buried in Rhinebeck Cemetery, Dutchess County.”
Found in an antique shop in Newport Rhode Island, this wonderful and sensuous oil portrait is unsigned but most likely a work of one of Helen’s many artists friends. It appears a larger canvas was cut down and reused to paint this portrait. The semi-surrealist portrait recalls the work of Salvador Dali in his portraiture of society Women of the time. The portrait depicts Helen Hull looking on while holding up her left hand, which appears to be covering her chest. Her fingers are beautifully painted and executed. Helen has a serene expression on her face. Her lips are painted red, and she wears a black ribbon in her hair. Helen’s hair is painted in a way that resembles snakes as in Medusa’s hair. Helen also wears a white daisy necklace. The painting is no doubt full of mysterious symbolism and imagery. Perhaps the painter and Helen were lovers, and the painter included in the painting clues to their history together? The background of the painting is dark and mysterious and shows a large expanse of water (perhaps the Narragansett Bay or Atlantic Ocean in Newport where she played or the Hudson River valley where she lived). The painting has an ethereal quality to it and it is quite haunting. The portrait presents beautifully and is in good vintage condition, with minor wear, losses to finish, and patina commensurate with age. Portrait sold as-found. This is a fabulous opportunity to own a portrait of a fascinating, strong, and independent woman that deserves a book written about her! A wonderful and elegant portrait that will make a great conversation piece in any interior. Fresh to the market!
Dimensions: 11-1/4″ in height, 10-1/8″ in width
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