Skip to main content

Eyre de Lanux papers, 1865-1995

Biographical Note

Eyre de Lanux (1894-1996) spent much of her life traveling between Paris, Italy, and New York. In addition to portrait and frescoe painting, de Lanux designed furnishings and was a prolific writer.
Elizabeth Eyre de Lanux was born on March 20, 1894, the eldest daughter of Richard Derby Eyre (1869-1955) and Elizabeth Krieger Eyre (d. 1938). As Elizabeth's mother suffered from depression, the responsibilities of parenthood fell largely to Richard Eyre, a successful patent lawyer.
Elizabeth attended Miss Hazen's School in Pelham Manor, Westchester County, New York and enrolled in classes at the Art Students League in 1912 and during 1914-15. Her teachers were George Bridgman and John C. Johansen. At this time, she resided at 47 Washington Square but soon moved to 15 W. 67th Street. She exhibited two paintings, "L'Arlesienne," and "Allegro," in the first annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917.
In early 1918, while working for the Foreign Press Bureau of the Committee on Public Information, Elizabeth met writer Pierre Combret de Lanux (1887-1955.) They married in New York in a civil ceremony on October 9, 1918. Immediately after the Armistice, they sailed for Paris, settling at Number 19 Rue Jacob. Their daughter, Anne-Françoise, nicknamed "Bikou," was born December 19, 1925.
Possibly from the beginning of their marriage, but certainly from the early 1920s, Eyre and Pierre accorded one another the freedom to take other lovers. From 1923 to 1933, Pierre de Lanux was based mainly in Geneva, where he worked for the League of Nations as director of the Paris Office. The marriage endured until Pierre's death in March 1955.
In Paris, from 1919-20, Elizabeth continued her painting and drawing studies. At this time, she began signing her sketches "Eyre de Lanux." Café society at Le Boeuf sur le Toit was an inexhaustible source for portrait subjects, as were socialite Natalie Clifford Barney's Friday salons. A series of "Outlines of Women," line drawings touched with wash, were exhibited in May 1921 at New York's Kingore Galleries. On view was Eyre's portrait of Barney, identified as "Amazone" in the exhibit leaflet, and those of various high-society figures, including Marion Tiffany, actress Eva Le Gallienne, and tennis champion Julie Lentilhon.
Eyre and Pierre resided in the United States from September 1920 to April 1922, and lived at the Chelsea Hotel during the spring of 1921. While Pierre traveled, Eyre completed work on a pair of oak doors painted in tempera, vermillion, and gold with the 13th century legend of Sainte Marie l'Égyptienne. The doors went on exhibit in March 1922 at Knoedler Galleries and received a favorable review in The Sun. Eyre would not exhibit again in New York until 1943, when her fresco, "Persiennes, Persiennes" was included in "The Art of 31 Women Show" at Art of This Century Gallery.
Eyre began the study of frescoe painting in the late 1920s with Constantin Brancusi. Exhibits of her later frescoes were held in 1952 at Alexander Iolas in New York and in Paris at Le Sillon in 1960.
During her years in Paris, Eyre was associated with members of the Parisian arts and literary circles. Ezra Pound made corrections to her 1923 poem "Rue Montorgueil." Eyre met Surrealist poet Louis Aragon, who may have fell in love with her. Aragon's 1919 poem, "Isabelle," dedicated cryptically to one "Madame I.R." on its 1926 publication, tells of his love for "une herbe blanche." Their one-year liaison began in earnest in March 1925, soon after Eyre's relationship with Natalie Barney had ended. An affair with political writer Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, initiated in early 1923 and carried on intermittently, also ended at this time.
In 1933 Eyre and Pierre purchased a number of works of contemporary art. These included a Picasso watercolor and drawing from his Cubist period, a Braque, a Berman, two Picabia drawings, an Yves Tanguy, a large Mirà, and two paintings by de Chirico. In future years, gallery-owner Betty Parsons 1900-82), whom Eyre doubtless knew in Paris, would assist her in selling paintings from her collection. Many would be sold at a great loss to meet expenses.
From 1927 to 1933, Eyre collaborated with British carpet designer Evelyn Wyld (1882-1973), creating modernist furniture in glass, cowhide, wood, and lacquer for private clients. Eyre met Wyld while interviewing her for her monthly column, "Letters of Elizabeth," which ran for two years in Town and Country magazine. Eyre and Wyld exhibited their interiors in the 1928 and 1929 annual showings of the Artistes-Décorateurs and in 1930 at the first exhibit of the Société Union des Artistes Modernes. In 1932, the two women opened Décor, a furniture gallery in Cannes. The business, hurt by a decline in demand following the 1929 stock market crash, closed in 1933.
Eyre returned to Paris in 1945 There she met a young Italian writer, Paolo Casagrande. Eyre was 54 years old and he roughly half her age. With his encouragement, she rented a studio at 53 Via Margutta and beganworking on large frescoes and fresco portraits. One of her sitters was Tennessee Williams.
The relationship with Casagrande endured until the end of Eyre's life. Although Casagrande married in 1950 and eventually had children, he and Eyre maintained an almost continuous, passionate correspondence. They traveled for long periods in southern Italy, Sicily, Greece, and Morocco. During their Moroccan sojourn in 1951 and 1952, Eyre began making notes for short stories. "La Place de La Destruction" was published in 1955 in La Nouvelle Revue Française, and "The House in the Medina" appeared in Harper's Bazaar in November 1963. Her sketchbooks, watercolors, and frescoes from this period reveal her fascination with the North African landscape.
In March, 1961, possibly in order to pull away from Casagrande, Eyre left Paris and returned to New York permanently, taking a studio apartment at The Picasso on East 58th Street. In a diary entry made shortly before moving day, she wrote, "Write to Paolo every day, and mail it only occasionally." Her last visit to Paris occurred in 1978. Until legal blindness overtook her, Eyre pursued various research and writing projects.
She began work on a biography of Tobias Lear, a secretary to George Washington and a distant maternal ancestor. She also gathered photographs for "Illusions of Identity," a book of associations between the physical and metaphysical worlds with a preface by Ray Bradbury; the book was never published. In 1980, she supplied paintings to illustrate Overheard in a Bubble Chamber (1981), a book of science poems for children written by her close friend Lillian Morrison. The New Yorker magazine published three of her short stories: "Montegufoni" (1966), "Cot Number Eleven" (1968), and "Putu" (1972). Plans to bring together twelve stories in one volume were never realized.
Eyre de Lanux died in August 1996 at the age of 102.