Sari Dienes Foundation

1898-1939

1898 – Born Sarolta Maria Anna Chylinska at 5.00 a.m. on October 8th in Debreczen, Hungary. Her father, Lovag Gyorgy Chylinski (b.1861) is the son of Baroness O’Naughton, of Irish and Polish noble descent. Her mother, Etelka Chylinska (1870-1932), is the daughter of Sandor Alexander Stegmüller (1832-1894) from southern Germany and his Swiss wife Marie Gerster (1843-1930), a relative of the renowned opera singer and voice coach Etelka Gerster (1855-1920). Known to her family as Sari (the S pronounced as in sugar), she has one elder sister, Magda (1894-1969); a brother, Emmanuel, born in 1891, dies in infancy. Having gambled away the family fortune, Sari’s father is forced to make a living as a studio photographer. Her parents divorce when she is four years old; she and her sister are raised by her mother, who remarries a bank director. After separating from her second husband when Sari is thirteen years old, her mother supports herself and her two daughters on the income from a pensione on the Adriatic Coast at Abbazia, Italy (now Opatija, Croatia). As a child Sari has piano lessons from her maternal grandmother but abandons music in favor of dancing after contracting tuberculosis aged fourteen.

c.1915-18 – Studies dance in Budapest with Valéria Dienes (1879-1978), a student of Raymond Duncan, and wife of mathematician and poet Paul Dienes (1882-1952).

1919 – Paul Dienes heads a committee charged with restructuring university education during the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic (March 21st – August 1st) led by Béla Kun. With the collapse of the Republic, Paul is forced into hiding as counterrevolutionary forces hunt down and execute Kun’s associates. Sari and Paul Dienes become romantically involved.

1920 – Paul Dienes flees to Vienna, where he finds work in crowd scenes in the film industry. He is later joined by his wife and sons, Gedeon (1914-2005) and Zoltan Paul (b.1916), and Sari. Paul and Valéria divorce. Valéria moves to Nice, where Raymond Duncan has established a commune based on an ancient Greek model. Sari and Paul move to Paris. Over the next decade Paul’s sons live with their mother but spend summers with Paul and Sari.

1921 – Studies mathematics in Paris, where Paul does research at the Sorbonne.

1922 – Marries Paul Dienes in Neukematen, Austria (July 26th) and moves to Wales, where Paul teaches mathematics at Aberystwyth University.

1923 – Paul accepts a post teaching mathematics at Swansea University. Moves to Sketty, on the outskirts of Swansea.

c.1925 – Begins to make handcrafted leather bags and embroidered items.

1928 – Summer in Alsókörtvélyes, Hungary (now Nižný Hrušov, eastern Slovakia) at the ‘private university’ of Anna Lesznai (1885-1966), artist, writer, revolutionary and friend of György Lukács.

c.1928-1935 – Studies in Paris with Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at the Académie Moderne, then with André Lhote, and finally at the Académie Ozenfant. Befriends the photographer André Kertész, and artist and designer Eyre de Lanux. Commutes between Paris and the UK and spends summers with Paul and his sons in France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Transylvania.

1929 – Moves to London, where Paul Dienes is appointed Professor of Mathematics at Birkbeck College, University of London.

1930 – Birth of John Grube (1930-2008), illegitimate son of Paul Dienes and Gwenyth Deen Macintosh Grube (1900-1987). Sari and Paul befriend the composer Michael Tippett and classical Indian dancer Uday Shankar, brother of Ravi Shankar.

1936 – Assistant director of Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts in London, inaugurated by the French Ambassador on May 26th. Together with Ursula Blackwell-Goldfinger, wife of modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger, recruits the school’s first students, Leonora Carrington, and Stella Snead, who remains a lifelong friend.

1937 – Separates from Paul Dienes. Befriends Max Ernst.

1938 – Employs sculptor Henry Moore to teach a course in modeling in clay at the Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts, which she follows.

1939 – Sails to Canada on the R.M.S. Montrose. Arrives in New York on September 3rd for a short visit but is prevented from returning to the UK by the outbreak of World War II. Helps Ozenfant establish his new art school at 208 East 20th Street in New York, which opens on October 2nd. Lives at 77 Irving Place.


Gyorgy Chylinski in ceremonial dress


Etelka Chylinska, 1902


Sari, c.1902


Sari dancing, c.1918


Sari and Paul Dienes, c.1920


With her mother, Abbazia, c.1926


Florence, c.1926


Paris, c.1930 – photo André Kertész


Sari (back row, second left) at Académie Ozenfant, c.1932-35