Lydia Sylvette David began her artistic life not as a painter, but as a model for Pablo Picasso. When she was seventeen years old, she was living in the south of France with her English-born mother who was an artist, her brother, and her boyfriend, Toby Jellinek, a maker of avant-garde metal chairs. Picasso had set up a studio nearby and noticed Jellinek’s unusual pieces. He asked him to deliver a couple of the chairs to his studio, and with him went Sylvette David. Shortly after, Picasso presented a picture of her, drawn from memory, and convinced David to model for him.
A shy girl, David was tall and had striking looks. She wore her hair in a long, blond ponytail, a style like that which Brigitte Bardot would later adopt. It was her hair and face that captivated Picasso, but unlike many of his other models, their relationship was purely platonic. In the months she sat for him in 1954, Picasso produced over forty pieces based on her likeness. Photos of Picasso and his model also appeared in an issue of the widely read magazine Paris-Match.
David would relate that she began drawing to pass the time while she sat for Picasso, often posed in a rocking chair. She later married and moved to England with her husband, and not wanting to capitalize on her fame as a painter’s muse, signed her work with her married name, Lydia Corbett. Eventually, she added a second signature to her paintings and watercolors, that of Sylvette David. As her reputation as an artist grew, she exhibited her work in England and France, including several London exhibitions.