Teresa and Zita Jungman - Muses & The Beau Monde
They started the fashion for treasure hunts and masquerades that defined high society in the 1920s and even went as far as to try and spend the night in Madam Tussaud's chamber of horrors, the Jungman Sisters not only made the news, they made history.
Zita Jungman, later Zita James, was born on 13 September 1903. Teresa "Baby" Jungman, later Teresa Cuthberston, was born on 9 July 1907.
They were the daughters of Dutch-born artist Nico Wilhelm Jungman. Their father was a naturalized British subject who, in 1900, married Beatrice Mackay, from a devout Roman Catholic family in Birmingham. They were divorced in 1918, after he had been interned in Germany because of his British citizenship. Nico died in 1935. Teresa’s mother then became the second wife of Richard Guinness.
Zita and Teresa’s mother liked to entertain, and she mixed actresses with society people (unusual at the time). She could be stern, and once obliged an embarrassed Teresa to attempt a solo Charleston in the presence of a male admirer. Despite this, Loelia Ponsonby, later Duchess of Westminster, thought Teresa and Zita “gloriously emancipated”.
At a party given by their mother in 1926, Cecil Beaton recalled tables groaning with caviar, oysters, paté, turkeys, kidneys and bacon, hot lobsters and meringues; the guests included Ivor Novello, Gladys Cooper, Tallulah Bankhead and Oliver Messel. Teresa and her sister were invited to the great houses of the day, to the Desboroughs at Taplow Court, and the Salisburys at Hatfield. The two girls wanted for nothing, and Beaton was surprised that at their mother’s party they rushed about having a good time, “not looking at all excited at having such a glorious party”.
Zita together with Eleanor Smith, daughter of the Earl of Birkenhead, and Elizabeth Ponsonby, daughter of the future Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, Enid Raphael and others, started the fashion for treasure hunts and masquerades that defined high society in the 1920s. In her book Cocktails and Laughter (1983), Loelia, Duchess of Westminster recalls Zita as "a master of unusual ideas", persuading the Hovis factory to bake clues into loaves like Chinese fortune cookies. She even got Lord Beaverbrook to print a special edition of the Evening Standard, complete with mocked-up headlines and more clues.
When Beaton broke into this rarefied world in late 1926, the group found a photographer who could encapsulate them in romantic poses and publish the results in Vogue. On one memorable occasion, Teresa pretended to be a newspaper reporter from a non-existent paper and interviewed Beverley Nichols at Claridge’s, while her sister and Lady Eleanor Smith hid under a table.
It was at the Tennants' Wiltshire manor, Wilsford, that Zita and "Baby" Jungman indulged in their young host's mania for dressing-up. Edith Olivier, recorded events; at the same time, noting Zita's own slight distance from the evening's partying as the guests waited - and waited - for their host to appear:
"Baby Jungman in silver trousers and tunic. Zita wouldn't dress (tho' terrified at not having) . . . At 9.30 Osbert and Sachie [Sitwell], Siegfried Sassoon [Tennant's lover] and Willie [William] Walton led the fainting guests to the hall . . . Stephen at last came in a white Russian suit with silver train and a bandeau round his head."
Then they all played hide and seek in the dark. The next morning, "Zita & Baby very fleet & agile", Beaton composed a human sandwich of Stephen's glamorous guests, piling them one on top of the other and covering them with a leopardskin rug.
On a subsequent and even more extravagant weekend, Tennant had Zita and Baby, and the rest of his guests, don specially made 18th-century costumes and parade on the bridge over the river that ran through the estate, provoking one of the most extraordinary, and perhaps decadent, images of inter-war high society.
As early as 1923 Teresa was involved in a prank, dressing up as a Russian refugee called “Madame Anna Vorolsky”. She adorned herself in a black wig, Woolworth pearls and her mother’s mink coat, looking, in the words of Eleanor Smith, “a mixture of Pola Negri and Anna Sten”. Further armed with a casket of jewels from her mother’s Rolls-Royce, Teresa went about pretending that she had to sell the jewels to educate “my little boy”, spicing this with grim descriptions of the Red Terror. Beverley Nichols was again taken in, as was the 9th Duke of Marlborough, who some years later became one of Teresa’s suitors.
She attended a garden party in the guise of Madame Vorolsky, with two borzois in tow, and on meeting a distinguished general and his wife, told him that she would never forget the night she had spent with him in Paris. The general replied sternly that he had spent only one night in Paris, during the war. “Zat,” said Teresa, “was zee night.”
She was, however, very strict in her adherence to the Roman Catholic faith. Lord Longford was convinced that none of her admirers “got anywhere with her sexually”, and described her as “more like a nun, like a very friendly and fascinating nun”.
Sensing a more serious spirit in her sister, Olivier became a close friend of Zita's, a confidante while Waugh and others pursued 'Baby'. Waugh first met Baby in 1930, and was deeply attracted to her — she, however, found him physically unattractive. She later claimed that she loved him, but was not “in love” with him. Waugh told Lady Diana Cooper that if he held Teresa’s hand for a while, a little warmth came into it; the moment he released her hand it went cold again. On his death, Waugh's prayerbook was found to contain a pressed orchid labelled "19 January 1930" - the night he met Baby.
Some have suggested that Baby might have been the inspiration for Lady Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. In facetious mood, Waugh claimed that every character in Work Suspended was based on her.
Beaton also admired Teresa:
“Baby is particularly waxy, and like a white gloxinia, with her Devonshire cream pallor and limpid mauve eyes. She has a waxen, buttony nose and buttony lips, and her hair, spun of the flimsiest canary-bird silkiness, has a habit of falling lankly over her eyes, whence it is thrown back with a beguiling shrug of the head.”
In 1940, Teresa married Graham Cuthbertson, a Scot who had been educated at Wellington and was then serving in a Canadian regiment. He arrived in Britain as a sergeant-major sporting a walrus moustache, and, to the horror of all Teresa’s old suitors, swept her off her feet. Lord Longford recalled that he and his friends thought him a bounder: “He obviously had plenty of sexuality. Perhaps it needed someone like that to overcome Baby’s chasteness, which possibly he did not even notice.”
Zita, for her part, was romantically pursued by Sacheverell Sitwell, but was said to favour his brother Osbert (who was anyhow homosexual). He remained inured to her charms, however, and Zita wrote mournfully in her diary that he was much more interested in Christabel Aberconway: "the two are to be found lolling in each other's arms spiritually if not entirely physically at any hour".
None the less, she found her own match in the shape of Arthur James, a grandson of the Duke of Wellington, whom she married in 1929. She walked down the aisle alone, with a very long train, an exquisite dress, very deep yellowish white, and a Russian crown of orange blossom.
"The Jungman sisters are a pair of decadent 18th-century angels made of wax, exhibited at Madame Tussaud’s before the fire.... Zita has ... smooth polished complexion and shoulders, and unearthly hollow voice, but she has a serpent-like little nose and there is great architectural strength and firmness about her jaw and mouth. With her smooth fringes and rather flat head, like a silky coconut, like a medieval page, and with her swinging gait."
- Cecil Beaton, The Book of Beauty
Zita and Teresa once tried to spend the night in Madam Tussaud's chamber of horrors. They removed the wax models of the "Princes in the Tower" to make themselves a bed and they were discovered by security staff during the night.
Zita's marriage did not last. Her great consolation was her Roman Catholicism - and her sense of duty and caritas was put to the test during the Second World War. In 1939, she began driving an ambulance in London, and, in April 1940, joined a Canadian Polish ambulance unit in France. She dined with Edith Olivier on the eve of her departure. In the blackout, they left the Etoile restaurant, walking through a darkened city. "The houses shut out the sky," Olivier wrote. Later she was very nearly captured by the Nazis and it marked her.
"I think the shock of seeing a whole nation give in, was too much for her."
In later life Teresa shared a cottage in Gloucestershire with her sister. Her former suitor Evelyn Waugh visited them there in 1953, finding them in a serious state of destitution; but he nevertheless judged their cottage pretty, clean and sweet-smelling, and relished their hot scones, choice of two jams, plum cake and China tea.
Their financial situation changed with the death of Charlie Brocklehurst (best known as Christie’s silver expert), who had loved Teresa from afar for many years. He bequeathed her a fortune, which, for strict Catholic ethical reasons, she was at first inclined to refuse. When she relented, the lives of the two sisters were again comfortable, though they continued to live modestly.
Teresa remained remarkably youthful, and her 100th birthday party in Ireland attracted a gathering of all ages and all stations. Throughout the festivities she held court in her drawing room.
She died, aged 102 -- her sister having died four years earlier in 2006 at the same age in Ireland.
Reading Recommendations and Content Considerations
D.J Taylor Cecil Beaton
A link to read The Book of Beauty by Cecil Beaton online