Artwork Description / Detail
1931 – 2003
On a cool day in 1953 the 71-year-old Sir William Russell Flint answered the door of his London studio, Peel Cottage, to a pretty young woman who, despite his protestations that he didn’t need another model, had insisted on him seeing her. What Russell Flint saw when he opened the door was a stunningly attractive 21-year-old former ballet dancer, of whom he later commented, ‘I had adapted faces to make them look like hers years and years before I met her’. The young woman was Cecilia Green and she remained with him as model, muse and critic until 1966. For most of his painting life Russell Flint had in his mind and in his pictures an ideal of beauty and on that day in 1953 he found the living embodiment of that ideal. Blessed with high cheekbones, slanting eyes and a generous mouth, Cecilia Green owed her striking looks to her Russian-Jewish background. Her parents had escaped from Russia just before the revolution, leaving the poverty of Kiev for a similar existence in London’s East End. Cecilia, their only child, was born in Hackney on August 29th 1931.
Her childhood was dominated and disrupted by two factors; the Second World War, which resulted in her being evacuated on a number of occasions, and poor health, which meant a series of stays in convalescent homes. Consequently she received very little education and left school at thirteen, desperate to learn. Influenced by her parents’ love of music and literature she took every opportunity to improve her intellect, beginning a life-long love of the arts, especially painting, opera and poetry. Much to her parents’ dismay, as much for the notion as the cost involved, she set her heart on becoming a dancer. With her parents unable to make any financial contribution she paid for ballet school herself, taking a wide range of jobs, none of which lasted very long, because as she put it 7 always seemed to get the sack from my various jobs, usually for dreaming, or for affected and generally soppy behaviour.’ However, she did eventually achieve her ambition and became a dancer with the London Festival Ballet, partly paying for her classes by modelling for the London Camera Club. Ironically the dancing strengthened her leg and thigh muscles that had been weakened by childhood malnutrition and rickets.
Her career as a professional dancer was cut short by a recurrence of yet another of her childhood ailments, tuberculosis. With the one career brought to a premature end she looked for another and decided to become a full-time model. Following remarks that she bore a resemblance to the figures in his pictures she was eventually persuaded to telephone Russell Flint and offer her services. Her arrival at Peel Cottage provoked the most productive period of Russell Flint’s career, prompting The Connoisseur magazine to remark in 1962 ‘Who would think, looking at the vigour of Sir William’s latest work done within the last few weeks, that he is in his eighty-third year’. Intelligent, quick witted and outspoken at times, Ceciha became something of a social asset to Russell Flint, standing in for his invalid wife as hostess for the many parties at Peel Cottage where the company would include fellow artists, actors and poets. Among her own favourite guests were actor Peter Gushing and his wife Helen. Although Russell Flint was very fond of her their relationship was always most proper. When painting he always observed great formality, forever correctly attired in a waistcoat, collar and tie, and as often as not, he would not even remove his jacket whilst at work. For her own part Cecilia looked upon him as a kindly uncle.
Despite the mutual warmth of their relationship she found him to be a hard taskmaster, insisting on difficult and tiring poses without any obvious consideration for her discomfort, although her ballet training gave her an advantage above his other models in enabling her to maintain awkward positions. In the early sixties, determined to spend more time with her art consultant husband John Simmons (they had married in 1958), she sought a break from the daily routine and for a while she was embraced by the world of advertising. Although she returned to Russell Flint she began to tire of the whole situation and left his employ in August 1966. Her departure was taken badly by Russell Flint and he did not mention her once in his autobiography ‘In Pursuit’ published posthumously in 1970. Although hurt by his bitterness Ceciha never spoke of him with anything less than great affection. In her later years she remained a strikingly attractive woman and produced a number of witty original watercolours, playing on her own amused celebrity as a model and humorously empowering women. She died on November 2nd 2003 at the age of 72 after a brave battle against cancer.