Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945)
Frequently appearing in photographs with Noël Coward and the London elite, Calthrop encapsulates the individuality of 1920s style and first-wave feminism...
‘Small of stature but strikingly handsome, with an unmistakable chic all her own….Her head was held so high one wondered if she might be in danger of falling over backwards.’ 
Frequently appearing in photographs with Noël Coward and the London elite, the fiercely independent and often outspoken Gladys Calthrop, with her angular jaw and short cut hair, encapsulates the individuality of 1920s style and first-wave feminism.
In 1921, the year before this portrait was painted, Gladys Calthrop met Noël Coward who was on holiday in Rapallo and Coward, while singing at Mrs Astley Cooper’s English Club, was horrified during his performance when a ‘smartly dressed’ woman in the front row appeared to be ‘fighting an attack of convulsive giggles with singular lack of success’: this woman was Gladys Calthrop.Mutually realising they shared a sense of humour, the pair became inseparable, discussing life and death, religion and art. Coward later described her as ‘intimately concerned with all my best work, and so intrinsically part of my failures and successes.’
Calthrop’s theatre career commenced when Coward asked if she would design the costumes and the sets for The Vortex, which opened at the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead in 1924; this would be Coward’s first great commercial success. Calthrop travelled to New York after The Vortex was taken to Broadway and was quickly wooed by Eva Le Gallienne, actress and founder of the Civic Repertory Theater, who was romantically involved with Mercedes de Acosta, a well-known writer. Dorothy ‘Dickie’ Fellowes-Gordon wrote that as soon as she arrived in New York, ‘Gladys Calthrop had gone off with Mercedes de Acosta’s girlfriend… Noël [Coward] shook his head and said “There’ll be trouble now!”
Gladys Calthrop continued her career as Artistic Director for Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theater, designing costumes for Broadway and shows including The Cradle Song (1927), Private Lives (1931) and Tonight at 8:30 (1936).Gladys continued to work in Britain as a leading stage and film designer until 1964, working on films with Noël Coward, including Brief Encounter. She took flying lessons, buying her own plane and once flying to Germany with Jeffrey Amherst where they met Hitler at the Chancellery in Berlin.In 1969 she escorted Noël Coward to receive his overdue knighthood; Winston Churchill had put a stop to the award in 1943, as he did not agree with Coward’s lifestyle choices. She died in 1980, aged 85.
 J.J.A. Amherst, Wandering Abroad: the Autobiography of Jeffrey Amherst (London, 1976), p.200
 N. Coward, The Letters of Noël Coward (London, 2014) p.56; P. Hoare, Noël Coward: A Biography (Chicago, 1995), p.56
 L.C. Lesley, The Life of Noël Coward (London, 1977), 55; P. Hoare, Noël Coward: A Biography, (Chicago, 1995); N. Coward, The Letters of Noël Coward (London, 2014), p.56
 P. Hoare, Noël Coward: A Biography (Chicago, 1995), p.150
 J.J.A. Amherst, Wandering Abroad: the Autobiography of Jeffrey Amherst (London, 1976) pp.199-200