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Pola Negri and Rudolph Valentino portrait offered at Bonhams 19th Century European Art Sale
Federico Beltran Masses (Spanish, 1885-1949) Pola Negri y Rudolph Valentino. oil on canvas, 162 x 129.5cm (63 3/4 x 51in). Estimate: £10,000-15,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Beltran Masses’ Pola Negri y Rudolph Valentino gives no indication of the dramatic love affair between Hollywood’s first femme fatale and her Latin lover. Estimated at £10,000-15,000, the contemplative double portrait – featuring Negri wearing a ring, which it has been suggested is Valentino’s cursed ring – is a highlight at Bonhams 19th Century European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art sale, on 27 September 2017 at Bonhams New Bond Street saleroom.

Bonhams Director of 19th Century Paintings, Charles O’Brien commented, “Pola Negri y Rudolph Valentino is an ethereal and beautiful painting of one the most iconic Hollywood couples of their era. Federico Beltran Masses built a successful career as a portraitist, and as a friend of Valentino’s, could capture a moment of stillness in the pair’s otherwise dramatic lives. This is a very fine example of the artist’s art deco style, and will make an exquisite addition to any serious collection.”

Born in Poland, Negri was a stage and film actress who achieved worldwide acclaim during the silent and golden eras of Hollywood. Her on and off-screen romances tantalized audiences, and her controversial antics made her the subject of Hollywood gossip columns. Rudolph Valentino was an Italian actor naturalized in America, adored for his exceptional good looks and charming personality. Nicknamed “Latin Lover”, Valentino’s private life too was comparable to those of the characters he portrayed.

The duo met at a costume party and, according to Negri’s memoirs, became lovers after their second meeting. They remained so for a year, until Valentino’s untimely death from peritonitis in 1926 at the age of just 31. Upon hearing the news, tens of thousands of hysterical fans flocked to the streets to mourn him. Two women attempted suicide in front of the hospital. A woman in London killed herself by drinking poison while clutching a photo of the late actor, while a man in France also took his own life after covering himself with photos of Valentino. Negri, who claimed to be engaged to him at the time of his death, fainted over his coffin. She allegedly sent thousands of red and white roses that spelled out “POLA” to his funeral in New York, before escorting his body back to California by train, stopping at dozens of stations so his fans could pay tribute.

Paranormal activity
There have been many reported sightings of Rudolph Valentino’s ghost since the actor died, including at his Beverly Hills home, Falcon Lair, and at his stables.

One mystery which was later solved was that of the Lady in Black, who visited his crypt each year on the anniversary of his death. It was discovered that this was a publicity stunt, and carried out by Ditra Flame, whose mother was a friend of Valentino. The tradition of veiled women in black visiting Valentino’s grave continues to this day.

Stories of a cursed ring have also followed the actor since his death. Valentino found the ring in a store in San Francisco, and was told by the store owner that it had brought bad luck to everyone who wore it. A sceptic, Valentino purchased it anyway. He wore the band while filming the movie ‘The Young Rajah’, which was a commercial failure, and again in his last film ‘The Son of Sheik’. He died shortly afterwards. While finalizing his estate, the piece of jewellery was chosen by Pola Negri as a keepsake. Not long after she acquired it, she fell seriously ill. When she recovered, she passed the ring to a friend and Valentino lookalike, Russ Colombo “from one Valentino to another”. Colombo was killed in a mysterious accidental shooting shortly after. The next owner was entertainer Joe Casino. Although initially cautious and locking the accessory in a box, he later decided to ignore the ring’s history and was run over by a truck just one week after deciding to wear it. His brother, Del, then inherited it. Given the morbid history of the band, he kept it in a safe place and did not wear it. During a home break in, the ring was stolen by James Willis, who set off the burglar alarm and was shot dead by a policeman while the ring was in his pocket. It was returned to Casino, before being borrowed by Edward Small, who planned to use it in a movie on Valentino’s life. A young actor who auditioned for the coveted role, 21 year old Jack Dunn, wore the piece of jewellery at the screen test and died a fortnight later from a rare blood disease. Casino locked the ring in a safe box in an LA bank vault out of harm’s way. Within a year, the bank suffered a number of robberies and a fire. Today, nobody knows where the ring is.

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