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Rice, (Elena) Tamara Talbot-, née Abelson

Date born:  June 19, 1904

Place Born:  St Petersburg, Russia

Date died:  September 24, 1993

Place died:  Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

Scholar of Russian and Byzantine art; wife of art historian David Talbot Rice. Abelson was the daughter of Israel Boris Abelevich Abelson, a businessman and finance officer to the czar, and Louisa Elizabeth ("Lifa") Vilenkin (Abelson) (d. 1954). Raised in privilege by governesses and (she was a god-daughter to Leo Tolstoy), she attended the Tagantzeva Girls' School in St Petersburg until the Revolution in 1917 forced her family to flee, she and her mother to Finland and eventually to London and Paris. In England, she briefly attended Cheltenham Ladies' College and St Hugh's College, Oxford, in 1921 before transferring to the Society of Oxford Home Students (now St Anne's College).  Abelson met many young Oxford scholars through the salon of  Herbert E. ''Doggins'' Counsell, M. D. (1863-1946), including David Talbot Rice, her future husband, Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) and Harold Acton (1904-1994) both of whom she would remains friends.  This group all formed to some degree the personalities for Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Her closest women friends were Christine Trew (1900-1980), later wife of sixth Earl of Longford, and Elizabeth Winifred "Jane" Martin (1902-1976), who later married the art historian Kenneth Clark. These women were the first generation of post-World War I female Oxfordites, disparagingly known as ''undergraduettes.'' Abelson failed the Oxford Home Students and was dismissed in 1924. After returning to her now impoverished family in Paris, she worked variously as a film extra, journalist, and traveled to New York where she was employed as a researcher for Professor Carlton Hayes of Columbia University.  In 1927 she married Rice. The couple spent the next three years in Paris, where David Talbot Rice was studying under the great Byzantinist Gabriel Millet. She traveled with him to Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Persia, and Turkey on his excavations.  Some of the digs she supervised personally. She contributed to the exhibition catalog on Russian art held at Belgrave Square, London, 1935 in conjunction with her husband and Tancred Borenius. The co-written book The Icons of Cyprus was published in 1937. During World War II, Talbot-Rice worked in the Ministry of Information in London in the Turkish division.  After the war, she resumed publishing, with The Scythians in 1957, The Seljuks in Asia Minor in1961, and Everyday Life in Byzantium in 1967. Her final book, in 1970, was biography, Elizabeth Petrovna, empress of Russia, the first full biography of the ruler in English (and notable for its unusually positive view). After her husband's death in 1972 she began memoirs (published in fragmentary form in 1996 by her daughter). She died at the Talbot-Rice home in Gloucester. LS

Home Country:  Russia/United Kingdom

Sources:  Talbot-Rice, Elizabeth, ed. Tamara: Memoirs of St. Petersburg, Paris, Oxford and Byzantium.  London: Murray, 1996; Waugh, Evelyn. A Little Learning: the First Volume of an Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964;  Powell, Anthony. Infants of the Spring. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976; Tarr, Roger. "Talbot-Rice, (Elena) Tamara." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; [obituaries:] Knox, James. The Independent September 29, 1993; Ballance, Selina. The Guardian October 2, 1993;  The Times (London) October 14, 1993.

Bibliography:  and Rice, David Talbot. The Icons of Cyprus. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1937; and Rice, David Talbot.  Icons and their Dating: a Comprehensive Study of their Chronology and Provenance.  London : Thames and Hudson, 1974; Icons. London: Batchworth Press, 1959; Ancient Arts of Central Asia. New York: Praeger, 1965; A Concise History of Russian Art.  New York: Praeger, 1963; Czars and Czarinas of Russia. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1968; and Borenius, Tancred, and Rice, David Talbot. Russian Art.  London: Gurney and Jackson, 1935; The Scythians. New York: F.A. Praeger, 1957; The Seljuks in Asia Minor. New York: Praeger 1961; and Rice, David Talbot. Icons: the Natasha Allen Collection. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 1968;

Subject's name: Tamara Talbot Rice;