An Artist at Large in the Diplomatic World
Irena Baruch Wiley

Contact: Julie Sullivan
at Gold Leaf Studios
202 833-2440

A Collection of Portraits by Polish-American Artist Irena Wiley to be exhibited in Dupont Circle from June 19 to August 1, 2008

Diplomat's wife played key role in the escape of Jewish refugees, including Sigmund Freud, from Nazi occupied Vienna, Austria

On June 19, an exhibit of recently discovered portraits by Irena Wiley, wife of former U.S. Diplomat John Wiley, will make its public debut at Gold Leaf Studios in Dupont Circle (Rear 1523 22nd Street, NW, Washington, D.C.) where the collection has been carefully conserved and framed.

The collection was discovered and purchased almost three years ago by a local private collector. It took two years of research to discover the identity of the artist - former Georgetown resident Irena Wiley. Her husband John was a U.S. Ambassador whose career spanned nearly three decades and carried him and his artist wife to diverse postings around the globe including the first U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Vienna during Hitler's Anschluss, Estonia and Latvia during the Soviet takeover, and Tehran at the beginning of the last Shah's reign.

The portraits were created by Irena Wiley between the years 1934 and 1966, and offer a rarified eyewitness account of the faces behind some of the most powerful moments in 20th century world history. “It is a fascinating exercise to view this collection of portraits within the context of history,” explains the collector, “and specifically through the lens of Irena's powerful ability to distill the salient characteristics of the sitter.”

This exhibit marks the first time since 1947 - when her work was shown at New York's prestigious Wildenstein Gallery - that Irena Wiley's portraits have been on display. The private collection will be augmented by selected works on loan from Wiley's family, as well as archival documents including correspondence and period press pieces.

Once the collection was attributed to Irena Wiley, it was discovered that she was an author as well as an artist, who penned a book of memoirs titled Around the Globe in 20 Years. In the book, Irena Wiley writes with humor and passion about her life as a diplomat's wife. Many of the drawings in this exhibit are featured in Wiley's book.

Interviews with relatives of the Wileys have also helped to fill in the gaps in their life story and Irena's extraordinary artistic legacy. Among them are Irena Wiley's great nephew Anthony Szulc and retired Washington D.C. art dealer Barbara Fendrick. Barbara described the Wileys as a devoted couple and Irena as a woman of unusual warmth and spirit. “Everyone wanted to be around her, and she made each and every person feel important,” says Fendrick.

John Wiley's diplomatic service planted the couple firmly in some of the 20th century's most politically charged environments. He was one of the first diplomats to be stationed in Moscow following the Russian Revolution - this was also the Wileys' first home as a married couple.

Wiley was Charge D'Affaires in Vienna when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938. Irena worked feverishly, through correspondence, direct intervention, and any other means possible, to help many Jewish residents escape deportation by the Nazis.

The couple also spent time in Estonia and Latvia as part of the last U.S. legation before the Soviet occupation. During this time, Irena helped many people get out of the country before the Soviets could take control.

Irena Wiley was a professionally trained artist who attended the Slade School in London, the School for Applied Arts in Vienna where Gustav Klimt studied, and the Warsaw Institute of Fine Art.

She considered herself a sculptor first and foremost, but today, very little of this work has been located. Her best-known sculpture, originally donated to the Vatican but missing today, was an altarpiece depicting St. Therese de Lisieux. She used a very young John F. Kennedy, in 1939, as a model for the angel in the altar frame.

The portraits include many notable figures in world history including the last Shah of Iran and twin sister, Princess Ashraf; Malek Mansur - a prominent Iranian tribal chief; Otto von Habsburg; Teilhard de Chardin - author of The Phenomenon of Man; and Edith Hamilton - author of Mythologies. Also well represented in the collection are prominent Washingtonians such as John Walker, director and first curator of the National Gallery; prominent socialite and journalist Kay Halle; and former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.

The collection will debut at a special evening reception at Gold Leaf Studios on Thursday, June 19 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Interviews with some of Wiley's family members will be available at this event or can be scheduled separately.

The collection will remain on view at Gold Leaf Studios until August 1, 2008, after which it is planned to travel to the National Library and the Johan Laidoner Museum in Estonia.

Gold Leaf Studios is located at 1523 22nd Street NW (rear), Washington, DC.