Deane, Lillian Reubena - portrait of Miliza Korjus

This is a large miniature portrait at 150 mm by 115 mm. It is vertically signed at the lower right "L Reubena Deane" for Lillian Reubena Deane (24 Sep 1880-24 Jun 1972) who was born and worked in Chicago and also worked in Los Angeles.

On the reverse of the frame there is an inscription "Portrait on ivory of "Meliza Korjus", "The Great Waltz" (music by Johann Strauss) by Lillian Reubena Deane July 1945."

Miliza Korjus (aka Meliza Korjus) (1912-1980) was an opera singer whose operatic appearances and recordings quickly propelled her to the forefront of European singers and earned her the nickname "The Berlin Nightingale".

She decided to leave Estonia in 1933 to pursue a career as an opera singer in Western Europe and then in Hollywood. Seven years later, at the outbreak of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Estonia. Mass deportations and arrests followed the communist takeover, and the Korjus family never returned. Estonia regained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The family eventually settled permanently in the United States, where Miliza Korjus got her big break in Hollywood in 1938, playing a leading role in the critically acclaimed film "The Great Waltz," about the life of composer Johann Strauss. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role.

Korjus's film career was brought to an end by a bad automobile accident in 1940, when she was hospitalized for nearly a year, but she toured as a singer, then stayed in Mexico during World War II and also made a number of records. She retired from the concert stage in 1952.

Her concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944, after an absence of some ten years from the opera stage, was welcomed. Time magazine acknowledged she was a little rusty, but commented "Miliza Korjus is not quite as good as her recordings, but she is one of the best coloraturas U.S. concert goers have heard in a decade". See The Marvelous Miliza - TIME At the time she had purchased as her home, the Spanish-style villa in Hollywood that Rudolph Valentino built just before his death. For more about her, see Miliza Korjus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In 1998, six decades after she left Estonia with her family, Meliza's daughter, American-Estonian Melissa Wells then aged 64, returned to the land of her birth to serve as U.S. ambassador. Melissa Wells handed her credentials over to Estonian President Lennart Meri on November 3, 1998. At the time she said "To come back to the place where I was born, with Estonia as a free and independent country and after its occupation and its tragic is a dream come true, it’s a miracle." Wells also served as U.S. ambassador to Zaire, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde.

There are two other miniatures by Deane in this collection. Firstly, the self portrait shown here which is dated 1900. Secondly, the miniature of Isobella Mendez in a very colorful dress, which is dated 1929.

Lillian Deane had a long career, as these examples of her technique cover a period of 45 years, being painted in 1900, 1929, and 1945. Over such a long period she must have painted many miniatures, but no other examples are currently known.

The 1900 self portrait was painted when she was only 20 years old. It shows that she was a competent painter of faces, but already had an interest in the clothing of her subjects, as she has painted her dress in some detail.

The 1929 and 1945 miniatures show that her fascination with color and costume became more important to her than capturing a photographic likeness of her subject. The 1929 painting of the dress is a masterpiece of color and detail. The 1945 miniature also concentrates on conveying a rainbow of pastel colours.

Being able to show these miniatures together as a tribute to Lillian Reubena Deane is a pleasure and also an opportunity to show that some miniaturists moved beyond the concept of photographic likeness, to capture color in an impressionist manner.

One could say of Deane's work, that she used the face of the sitter only as a prop to support her painting of the costume, whereas most miniature painters used costume as a prop to support their paintings of a sitter's face. 1281


Anonymous said...

My father is in possession of a number of Dean's minitures and full sized paintings. Dean was a very close friend of my great-grandmother and a number of her paintings remain in my family. For further information, please feel free to email Brenda at

Unknown said...

Brenda, I know this post is several years old, but I will grab at straws. I have a full sized painting of Barbara LaMarr by Dean. I would like to know if it was painted from life or based on a photograph. Please, if you read this, contact me at Roberta