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Lydia Corbett/ Sylvette David: ‘Stories in Paint’


Lydia Corbett was born Sylvette David, but to Pablo Picasso, she was simply ‘Sylvette’. Having caught his eye in the French town of Vallauris at the age of nineteen, ‘the girl with the ponytail’ would sit for Picasso over the course of several months between 1953 and 1954. As his muse and model, she is the inspiration behind, and subject of, over sixty iconic portrait sketches, paintings and sculptures – Picasso’s ‘Sylvette’ series. While sitting for these portraits, she would often sketch to while away the time, and though she did not return to art again until later in her life, today Lydia Corbett is herself a celebrated artist working from her studio in the south-west of England.

It has been said that Picasso found in his teenage muse ‘le secret de la jeunesse’. It would seem that Lydia Corbett, and her art, with its distinctively free and ‘childlike’ style, remains permeated by this rare quality.

Corbett utilises multiple mediums including inks, watercolours, acrylics and oils, and also produces beautiful ceramics influenced by her time with Picasso. Her colourful paintings are predominantly still-life works, taking inspiration from the natural world, her family and friends, and literary subjects. They are often filled with an abundance of beautiful fresh flowers, and frequently also feature human figures in charming, ethereal compositions that sit somewhere on the border between fantasy and reality.

The paintings have been noted for this characteristically dreamlike quality, and Corbett’s gently playful use of figures in particular has been compared to the work of Marc Chagall, while her free, confident lines are said to recall Jean Cocteau. Corbett has described how her liberal upbringing in particular enabled the spontaneous and emotionally honest nature of her artworks – her ‘stories in paint’.

Lydia Corbett/Sylvette David has been the subject of a 1993 BBC documentary film, which focused on her relationship with Pablo Picasso. Her artwork has been shown in the Tate, as well as other locations in London, Europe and Japan, and features in prominent collections.

The 28th April 2019 sale at Wilkinson’s Auctioneers will feature paintings and ceramic works by Lydia Corbett/ Sylvette David: Lots #103-138.