L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Felix in exile

Felix Yusupov - sole heir to pre-Revolutionary Russia's greatest private fortune, youthful transvestite, homosexual (or at least bisexual), improbable husband to the last Tsar's only niece - is most famous - infamous - as the instigator of the plot against and murder of Rasputin. But what came after?

The notorious and grisly murder was a last desperate act, in the midst of World War I, to try and save the mortally ill Russian monarchy. Too little, too late; the Revolution was only three months away. Felix and his wife, Irina, were able to take refuge in the relatively calm Crimea, where they joined other fortunate aristocrats and members of the Romanov family, including Irina's immediate family and her grandmother, the Dowager Empress.

On the deck of the HMS Marlborough,leaving Russia in 1919.

In April of 1919, as the Civil War threatened, the whole group was evacuated, boarding an English warship sent by the Dowager Empress' nephew, King George V. The Yusupovs would settle in Paris. Through luck and some foresight, Felix and Irina were quite a bit better off than the majority of the Russian émigrés. They had jewels to sell, like so many others, but Felix had also managed to bring two Rembrandts out of Russia. They also had possessions and property in England and France. Felix became known for his great kindness and generosity to his fellow transplanted Russians.

Felix and his daughter, also named Irina, but always called Bébé.
I don't know who the painter is, but the results don't look too promising.

In 1924 Felix and Irina opened a couture house in Paris. Maison Irfé, named after the first two initials of his and his wife's first names, also became known for its line of perfumes, and they went on to open branches in Touquet and London before closing the business in 1931, mostly as a result of the world-wide Depression. The next year, by now in financial difficulties themselves, the couple brought a lawsuit against the film studio MGM, claiming that a character in the film "Rasputin and the Empress" - a heavily fictionalized account of the last days of the Romanovs and the murder of Rasputin - too closely resembled Princess Irina, and that the character's rape by Rasputin - in fact, Irina had never even met him - constituted libel. They won, and in 1934 were awarded a huge settlement.

In London in 1932, during the trial against MGM. (Three images.)

In 1927 Felix had written a book about Rasputin and his own involvement in the murder, and then an autobiography, "Lost Splendour" - not entirely trustworthy, but fascinating and well-written - first published in French in 1952 as "Avant l'Exil". Though an unusual pairing, and though Felix apparently had many male attachments through the years, he and Irina had a very happy marriage and a strong bond which lasted until his death in 1967, at the age of eighty.

(Finally, the comb-over has been abandoned.)
In his final home, at 38, Rue Pierre-Guérin in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, surrounded by possessions and family portraits.
In 1966, the year before his death.
Felix on his deathbed. (Two images.)
Irina, at Felix's funeral; she would live only three years more.

As someone who was so obviously troubled by the loss of his youth and beauty - the lingering comb-over and the obvious maquillage say all that needs to be said on that topic - Felix may have been making a subconscious reference to his own aging appearance and not merely his vanished wealth when he agreed to his memoir's English-language title, "Lost Splendour". As someone who sympathizes greatly with his desperate efforts, I think it only kind to end this post with a treasured image of Felix in the glory of his sixteen year old self, as immortalized by Serov.

Portrait by Valentin Serov, 1903.


  1. wonderful -i'm off to find a copy of this book -fascinating!

    1. I'm surprised you haven't already read it, Stefan; right up your alley. It's been reprinted, so it shouldn't be too hard to find. : )

  2. It's interesting to see a resemblance between Irina and Prince Philip, and although I don't know the exact relationship, there is a connection, (perhaps through her son Grand Duke Paul?). Having read quite extensively on Yusupov and the Rasputin murder, it is interesting to see pictures of him at various stages of his life. Thank you for that edification.

    1. There are several degrees of relationship..the nearest was Irinas mother Grand Duchess Xenia and Prince Philips father Andrew of Greece were first cousins the children of brother and sister( George I of Greece and Marie Feodorevna..both the children of Christian IX of Denmark)

    2. Thank you for your comment, Columnist!

      Do you mean Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh? I guess I can see some resemblance there - Irina had a rather severe, almost masculine beauty - but there isn't a terribly close family link. I guess you'd have to go back to the Denmark connection and King Christian IX, who was their mutual great-grandfather. It would go like this: Christian IX > George I of Greece > Prince Andrew of Greece > Prince Philip. And: Christian IX > Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia > Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna > Princess Irina. That would make them some sort of cousins, eh? There might be other ancestral links, but certainly not close ones. "Her son Grand Duke Paul?" You don't mean Irina, do you? She and Felix only had a daughter, also named Irina and born in 1915, who in turn only had a daughter, Xenia, born in 1942.

  3. Read the article, "From Mexico, with love: Russian art and Rasputin." http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/0377f0c4-86e9-11e0-92df-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3loxgGTUI
    Could the Mexican artist Víctor Manuel Contreras be the unknown artist painting Felix in the above photograph?

    1. I'd read that very interesting article. No, Contreras wouldn't even have been alive when that photograph was taken, almost certainly in the 1920s.

  4. I wonder what happened to all the Yusopov art and furniture?

  5. ......Am reading 'Former People' - Tragic that no one seemed to see the 'HORROR' that was about to descend on Russia ..... all those centuries of pent-up resentment & rage; culminating in a 'volcanic Krakatoa' of Horrifying Acts of Brutality! I would suppose that the 'Checka' became a far More Thorough version of the Tsar's 'Okrana'. 👁️ 👀 😵!

  6. Was this Prince Youssoupof the same as the surrealist artist?

    1. I wasn't aware of any surrealist artist by that name; I've been unable to find one that fits the correct time frame, but it appears there are actually a few contemporary artists with the name Yusupov. But, no, there's no relation to this Prince Yusupov/Youssoupoff.