Nadia Benois (1896-1975)

Nadezhda Leontievna Ustinova, née Benois, (1896-1975) better known as Nadia Benois, was a Russian painter of still life and landscape, and stage designer. Her father, named Leonti (Louis) Benois, was the owner of the famous Leonardo Da Vinci's painting 'Madonna Benois'; he was of Russian, French and Italian ancestry, and was an architect, who built several landmarks in St. Petersburg. Her mother had Ethiopian Royal ancestry. The large family of Benois lived in a grand mansion near the Imperial Mariinsky Opera House in St. Petersburg, that was built by her architect grandfather Nikolai Benois. She studied under Jacovleff, Choukhaieff and her uncle Alexandre Benois and at St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. In 1916 she married Jona Freiherr von Ustinov, nick named 'Klop'. of Russian, Polish Jewish, German and Ethiopian descent. and settled in England with her family in 1920. Her husband Jona  Ustinov worked as a press officer at the German Embassy in London in the 1930s and was a reporter for a German news agency. In 1935, two years after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Jona von Ustinov began working for the British intelligence service MI5 and became a British citizen, thus avoiding internment during the war. The statutory notice of his application for citizenship was published in a Welsh newspaper so as not to alert the Germans. He was the controller of Wolfgang Gans zu Putlitz, an MI5 spy in the German embassy in London who furnished information on Hitler’s intentions before the Second World War. (Peter Wright mentions in his book Spycatcher that Jona was possibly the spy known as U35; Ustinov says in his autobiography that his father hosted secret meetings of senior British and German officials at their London home.) His nickname 'Klop', meaning 'Bedbug' - was a name given to him by a very understanding wife on account of his extraordinary capacity to hop from one woman's bed to another in the King's service. After the Russian revolution of 1917 she was undecided about emigration, but when she became pregnant in 1920 the couple emigrated to London, England. Her son Peter Ustinov was born in 1921, and she lived in England ever since. In the course of her travels, Benois painted the impressionist landscapes of London streets, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. She exhibited her works in the Goupil, Redfern, Beaux-Arts, and other galleries, and is mentioned in multiple Journals from the Royal Arts Society. Some of her still-lives were acquired by the Tate Gallery in 1936. Nadia Benois held successful shows at the Little Gallery in 1924 and with Arthur Tooth & Son in 1929. She also showed at Goupil, Leicester and Matthiesen Galleries and widely abroad. Tate Gallery and Manchester City Art Gallery hold examples of her work. Member of NEAC. She also designed the stage for the ballet Cap over Mill, which was part of the Dark Elegies. Later in life, Benois used her talents to help the career of her son Peter Ustinov, who won the Benjamin Franklin medal in 1958, by formatting the screenplays and plays and creating costumes and sets for the films Vice Versa and Private Angelo.