Necklace, acc. no. 17.71.1

From Exile to Hollywood: Natalie Paley (working title)


Discover one of the twentieth century’s most glamorous icons

A muse, model, actor, and socialite, Natalie Paley (1905-1981) was a twentieth-century icon. Though often forgotten today, she rose from her family’s fabled and tragic history, and left a stylish and indelible mark on the century’s culture and design. This special exhibition will be the first to explore the exceptional glamour and enigmatic life of this legendary figure.

Natalie PaleyNatalie Paley

Born to Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich (1860-1919), uncle of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, and Princess Olga Valerianovna (1865-1929), Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Boulogne-sur-Seine, France, just outside of Paris. Her parents lived in French exile, due to their forbidden union, and they made the most of their fin de siècle surroundings, entertaining, collecting, and shopping as ultimate tastemakers. When the family’s anticipated return to Russia in 1914 led to the tragic execution of her father and brother by the Bolsheviks, Paley escaped back to France with her mother and sister.

Paley reinvented herself and emerged in the 1920s as the wife of French couturier Lucien Lelong (1889-1958), becoming the focus of every fashion photographer in Paris and beyond, from De Meyer and Dorvin to Horst and Hoyningen-Huene. As the muse, confidant, and platonic companion to artists, designers, and writers such as Jean Cocteau, Serge Lifar, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Fulco di Verdura, and Cecil Beaton, Paley was known for her exquisite taste, someone ethereal and glamorous who dictated her own fashion trends. She embodied the cool, discrete Hollywood allure of the 1930s, appearing in several fashionable feature films before moving to America.

The Paley-Romanov Collection

Hillwood’s 2022 acquisition of pieces that once belonged to Paley and the Romanovs, including imperial portraits, rare linens, and important archival documentation from five generations of the family, inspired this exhibition. Among the 335 new items are photos, letters, drawings, poems, a souvenir album, and news clippings of and relating to Natalie Paley, providing further insight into her life and painting a greater picture of this iconic woman. From Exile to Hollywood will explore her life through key items from this acquisition alongside pieces from Hillwood’s collection, including Sèvres porcelain, 18th-century glassware, and pieces from Fabergé. Beginning with a focus on Paley and her family in Gilded Age Paris, exploring the artistic environment in which the young princess grew up, the exhibition will then highlight her influential role in the arts as a muse of fashion creators, photographers, tastemakers, and writers. Hillwood provides the perfect setting as founder Marjorie Merriweather Post collected and preserved treasures from Paley’s imperial Russian lineage and patronized many of the same designers and photographers.