Baron Joseph "Sepy" De Bicske Dobronyi (April 20, 1922 – May 29, 2010) Hungarian-born sculptor and royal crown jeweler,aristocrat, art collector, world traveler, movie maker, pilot, wine collector, sportsman, playboy, and bon vivant. Sepy, as he became known, was the artist and jeweler whose name had been familiar in international society and movie circles as well as the art crowd. Baron Sepy was world renowned for his bronze and gold sculptures of famous celebrities such as the controversial 42"inch tall Golden Statue, of movie star Anita Ekberg who posed for him and gained recognition worldwide. "The Ekberg Bronze", was featured in the August 1956 issue of Playboy magazine by Hugh Hefner, a friend of Sepy.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Family and Personal Life
- 4 Works and achievements
- 5 World traveler and adventurer
- 6 Organizations
- 7 Discography
- 8 Ye Little Wood House
- 9 Socialites
- 10 Death
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Joseph De Bicske Dobronyi was born to József Dobronyi and Szidónia Petric, in the town of Bicske, Hungary, on April 20, 1922. His parents were selected to be the crown jewelers to the Royal House of Hungary dating back as far as the 15th Century. The Dobronyi family ancestors trace back to 1414, when they constructed their castle. In 1585, the family was bestowed with the title, "Baron". The Hungarian-born Dobronyi's title is a hereditary one bestowed by the King in 1540, when one of Dobronyi's ancestors, who had a private army, routed the Turks from Hungary after 150 years of occupation.
Dobronyi was raised by his mother, as he lost his father in the war, at an early age. His childhood consisted of hunting, riding, familiarizing himself to his countryside, and traveling all over Europe.
Dobronyi's grandfather was an owner of a vineyard in the hills, where his family would often visit. The young Baron would explore and watch over his grandfather's wine house and cellar.
World War II
In 1940, Dobronyi was drafted into World War II, had served as a pilot in the Hungarian Air Force. He specialized in transporting the wounded to hospitals from the front lines for the Red Cross. Joseph was one of six pilots chosen to try out the world's first Rocket-powered aircraft. In 1945, he was captured by the Russians, after his airplane was shot down in flames over Hungary and escaped by parachute. Dobronyi was held in prison in occupied Hungary but managed to escape in one day and immediately returned to Budapest.
Europe to Cuba
Hiding out for a few months, he managed to earn a living by working odd jobs. He obtained a job as an interpreter for the American Military Mission, also known as Diplomatic mission, where his talent of speaking six languages were useful. He spoke Hungarian, French, English, German, Swedish and Spanish. By 1946, Dobronyi had been refused a passport, so he decided to leave the country and headed to Sweden to visit some friends of the family who were living there. It took him six months to walk from Budapest to Sweden. Since he did not have a visa or papers it was a challenge to travel through dangerous occupied territory including Denmark.
Six months later, he wandered into Stockholm and started an apprenticeship at the House of Thomason, crown jewelers for the Swedish Royal Family. There Dobronyi studied wood and metal working, ceramics, and sketching. By 1947, he was selected to execute the design of the brooch that Folke Bernadotte gave to Princess Elizabeth on the occasion of her engagement to Prince Phillip.
At this time, an offer was presented by the King Gustaf V of Sweden to Dobronyi to travel to Caracas, Venezuela, which he accepted, in order to leave Europe and venture out on his own. He boarded a plane, on New Year's Eve 1947, where his final destination was not reached due to a layover in Havana, Cuba. Dobronyi with only $150.00, his suitcase and the suit on his back had the urge to have an epic New Year's Eve decided to stay in Cuba. Since the Caracas contract was never signed, Dobronyi searched for a job and was able to find work in a jeweler's shop. This job enabled him not only to survive to start saving in order to purchase his own tools. Gradually he began designing his own ideas, and working on them in his apartment after hours. His dedication and love for the arts proved fruitful as he started to build up a clientele and within a year he was able to fund his own studio. He incorporated his European style, and with his elegant and original approach to his designs, and the attraction from the Cuban society proved successful. Each work was signed with his trademark signature, "Sepy". His clientele included American tourists and people in the entertainment industry as well as the local Cuban society. In just a few years, his studio became the mecca for celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, Errol Flynn, and Nat King Cole to name a few. A necklace of shells in a net design was made for Mary Welsh Hemingway, who personally requested it. This brought more American customers to Dobronyi as well, as publicity for his studio with the magazines and newspapers in the U.S. .
During this time, Dobronyi's studio was doing very well, and the reputation he had with society was positive, he was able to take some time to dedicate to his first childhood fascination, African sculpture. He had always found time for his carvings throughout the years, and in the 1970s he made five expeditions to New Guinea in search of Asmat art. While he resided in Cuba, he came across old African Native Art with this his art became known as Afro-Cuban Sculpture. Dobronyi was welcomed into the secret ritual dances and festivals of the Namigos, who were the Afro-Cuban group of natives. This was an honor to be welcomed into these ceremonies as they were more secret than any of the other South American Tribes.
Cuba to America
Dobronyi came to the United States in 1959. On December 20, 1963, 40-year-old Dobronyi, who had citizenship in Hungary, Sweden and Cuba, was sworn in a federal courtroom, as a United States citizen by Judge Emett C. Choate. The Federal Building held a pre-holiday session and this was a very special day for the Baron as it had been a goal of his ever since the days of World War II.
Family and Personal Life
Dobronyi claimed romantic involvements with celebrities and personalities, including Anita Ekberg, whom Sepy met at a Los Angeles art gallery exhibit of primitives, when she was herself unknown; Ava Gardner; Brigitte Bardot; and Linda Christian
- Alicia Hartman y Portela (5 June 1953 – 17 May 1960) (divorced). Daughter of Walter Hartman, owner of the first Chrysler car dealership in Cuba
- Amy Green Brown (11 August 1922 – 19 November 1989) (divorced). New York heiress, daughter of Norvin Hewitt Green and Irene Pierce of New York
- Annette Nordquist (1969–1972) (divorced)
- In 1969, Dobronyi married third wife Anette Nordquist, a statuesque Swedish blonde. Two years later, the Herald reported that at 8:12 a.m. on July 1, 1971, Dobronyi became the first person in Miami to file for a no-fault dissolution under a revised state divorce law effective at midnight.
- Joseph (26 April 1961 ) (born Joseph Bicskei Dobronyi Jr.) — with Amy Green Brown Dobronyi
- Ferenc (22 September 1962) (born Ferenc Norvin Dobronyi) — with Amy Green Brown Dobronyi
Works and achievements
- Among Dobronyi's accomplishments is a $15,000 emerald and diamond peacock brooch, which Prince Carl Bernadotte of Sweden presented to Princess Elizabeth upon her engagement to Prince Phillip.
- In 1947, Dobronyi was commissioned by Count Folke Bernadotte, to make a wedding present for Princess Elizabeth, as she was then. He worked for six months making a ring in the form of a miniature St Edward's Crown. Each ruby, diamond and pearl was an exact miniature of the original.
- "Platinum and Gold Diamond-Crusted Pendant, (Sepy)", Havana, Cuba
- Sold for $1,100 and now is displayed in Havana at the Cuban Art Center. A woman had seen the pendant and had liked it but did not have the money to purchase it, so Dobronyi told her to take it. He lost track of her for about six months, and then a check arrived.
- "Diamond Earrings, (Sepy)"
- Featured on model in the issue of Harper's Bazaar, January 1954 in the article, 'Flying Down to Cuba'.
- "Sun Goddess Bracelet, (Sepy)"
- "Ring for Lena Horne, (Sepy)" (1953), Havana, Cuba
- World-famous singer, Lena Horne, requested an exotic ring to be designed that was especially designed for spot-lights. Horne and Dobronyi arranged a meeting at La Bodeguita del medio were the ring was unveiled, as he described all the advantages the ring was designed to have.
The Ekberg Bronze
- "The Ekberg Bronze, (Sepy)" (1956), Havana, Cuba
- Dobronyi's nude of the statuesque Anita Ekberg which was featured in Playboy magazine, August 1956 issue. Dobronyi thought up an experiment in melting gold on bronze and three months later he completed his 35" inch high, 40-pound Ekberg statue. It is a very realistic statue that spread his fame throughout Cuba. The controversial gold and bronze statuette was sold to a "private museum in Norway" for an undisclosed price on November 28, 1958. It is later told that Dobronyi earned $12,000 for the golden nude. Some of this money came from the sale of reproduction rights to a magazine; part from subsequent exhibition fee: part, finally, from the sale of the statuette to the National Museum in Oslo, through a well-known collector.
The Golden Virgin
- "The Golden Virgin, (Sepy)" (1962), Havana, Cuba
- The Golden Virgin, was the latest nude creation, a statue which will join the ranks of such stellar sculptings as Jayne Mansfield, Ava Gardner, Bridgette Bardot and Anita Ekberg Sepy's candidates for his "Hall of Beauty" were based on personality rather than measurements. His subjects from a wide personal knowledge of famous stars and models. Didi Roberts was the model for the Golden Virgin at the age of 25. She had appeared on television and in motion pictures such as The Eddy Duchin Story and Solid Gold Cadillac.
- Following an exciting reception of Dobronyi's newest nude statue in New York City, Columbia Pictures, who was at the time releasing a movie entitled "The Golden Virgin", approached Sepy with an offer to buy this latest creation. The statue was purchased for an undisclosed amount of money by Columbia Pictures in order to aid in its promotion of the movie, starring Joan Crawford and Rossano Brazzi. Sepy at the time was a resident of Havana, Cuba, had been his own gold supplier for his famous Gallery of Beauties. He had discovered sunken Spanish ships with buried treasure while diving in the sea around Cuba. The treasure hunt was very successful. Dobronyi located thirty-five sunken galleons and managed to salvage £50,000-worth of gold doubloons.
Lithe Nymphet Beverly
- "Lithe Nymphet Beverly, (Sepy)" (1958), Havana, Cuba
- Commissioned by Errol Flynn assisted in the talent scout of this gold-plated nude, Beverly Aadland when she was 17. This was an 18" reclining figure which Flynn displayed in his home in Jamaica. It sold for $5000.00
- In 1963, Dobronyi was working on assignment for Alfred Hitchcock fashioning a three-foot high piece of art, done entirely in sterling silver with the design of 200 tiny birds in a spiral.
The Cosmopolitan Primitive
- In Cuba, Sepy combined his early African passion with the equally exciting Cuban rhythm of life. With the innate taste and his own talent he has used the primitive African approach to art and has brought his own feelings and sensitivity to the carving of figures in the true tribal approval. His collection, The Cosmopolitan Primitive, was displayed by Gene Moore, the talented display director of Bonwit Teller.
- Dobronyi designed a small sculpture for the world famous casino, The Tropicana Club in Havana, Cuba.
- "The Vigia, (Sepy)," (1956), Havana, Cuba
- The sculpture (34.5 by 8 by 16.5 cm, or almost 14 by 3 by 6 in.) shows a crouching or squatting African figure, with wavy hair, its elbows on its knees and its hands on the ears. The sculpture has two functions: to protect the house when its owner is absent, and to protect the owner from illness and danger when he is hunting. "Vigia" is now part of Mary Hemingway's library, Finca Vigía, which has items of artistic and historic significance.
Diana the Huntress
- A wrought-iron, 'Diana the Huntress', was purchased by Jack Linkletter after Dobronyi had appeared on his television show.
World traveler and adventurer
Dobronyi traveled to 89 countries. During his travels he would visit hotels and would always leave with the hotel room skeleton key. He became intrigued by the many FOB skeleton keys and would display them in his wine cellar, at his home in Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida. Dobronyi was very fond of mountain climbing with heights of not only the toughest mountain to reach, but also with the reputation of a peak that rises to the altitude of 20,000 feet Mount Kilimanjaro. Dobronyi is photographed while he was placing the [Florida Flag] on the top of the mountain. The journey is a test of one's endurance and traveling one foot on front of the other foot instead of ropes and pitons. It took five days to cross the jumble of rocks that lies between the green coffee plantations of the lower slopes and the vast volcanic crater with its cone within a cone. Dobronyi also climbed the Matterhorn.
When he arrived to Miami, Dobronyi brought trophies of his travels. These included an impressive array of native primitive sculpture, dozens of artifacts from the Near and far East. Ancient arms and armor displayed on the walls of his home/studio, along with animal skins.
Art and artifacts
Dobronyi was one of the first persons to import Balinese art into the Americas. During his travels to Bali, the locals would bowed down to him as if he was king. He had visited Bali over 25 times and would stay in the presidential suite at the hotel for weeks at a time.
New Guinea artifacts
Dobronyi adventured to the jungles of New Guinea, to observe a primitive tribal war. He explored the depths of the jungle and purchased many pieces from the natives as he lived with them and followed their customs. During his visit in the summer of 1974, he was injured with an arrow through his leg. With the care of the natives, he recovered within three days and continued his studies of wood carvings.
Cuban Art Center
Dobronyi was one of the best known men in Havana. Old tourist literature credits Dobronyi as the founder of The Cuban Art Center in 1951. It was a cooperative attempt to provide a broader audience for the artists of Havana and the island and to stimulate the sale of their works. He had always been interested in Cuban culture and specialized in primitive, semi-abstract sculpture. A modern "Native Bazaar", which centralized the display of the art and sculpture of 187 Cuban artists, put shirts on artists' backs and bankbooks in their pocket for the first time in the island's history.
Bodeguita del Medio
Dobronyi was also the co-owner of the Bodeguita del medio which was the hangout for the jet-setters of that era. In 1951, Dobronyi convince owner Angel Martinez to convert his store into a tavern. There he became the hub of not only the art community but also of the social circles. Close friends were Ernest and Mary Hemingway, Hugh Hefner, Nat King Cole John Wayne and Errol Flynn to name a few.
Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce
- In 1985, Dobronyi was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.
International Explorers Society
Dobronyi was co-founder and director for the International Explorers Society. This society was established for the purpose of promoting exploration and furthering the knowledge of geography, archaeology, anthropology and other related sciences through expeditions, field trips and research projects. The Society actively supports programs for the protection of the environment, the conservation of wildlife, and the preservation of archaeological and historic sites.
Ye Little Wood House
Otto F.Seeler AIA, professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, designed Dobronyi's house and studio in Coconut Grove, Florida. They had met while Dobronyi lived in Cuba. The house was designed as the perfect backdrop for the wide array of art collection including his own. Since Dobronyi's astrological sign is Taurus, the roof of the house is in the shape of a bull's head with two wooden 'horns' extending far out over the deep, shade-giving porch. The house is surrounded by lush tropical foliage, and with its soaring glass and stone walls, there is no sharp differentiation between the outside and the interior. James Dean AIA was the resident architect for the construction. Robert D. Newell built the studio and Jonathon G. Seymour landscaped the property.
The home was built with the intention to be used as a gallery for the display of other artists works. Hanging rail for paintings extend along the walls of the two story main living area. There is a small sitting room several steps down from it with a sofa forming an arch around the fireplace. Beyond the great cone-shaped copper hood of fireplace is Dobronyi's workshop.
- Errol Flynn, arranged the model for Beverly Aadland Statuette. Flynn commissioned Sepy to decorate his house, in Jamaica. Antiques, pieces of native art by the dozen and a golden statue of Beverly "Woodsy", who had been Errol's protégée, then appearing in Cuban Rebel Girls which Sepy was the production manager for, were the items that filled Flynn's home.
- Ernest Hemingway
- Mary Hemingway
- Gleb Derujinsky, photographed Sepy, as a model, in the article featured in Harper's Magazine, January 1954, Flying down to Cuba, page 141.
- Robin Hanbury-Tenison, one of the greatest explorers and authors, united with Sepy upon arriving in Cuba. They spent time exploring the island and socializing with Flynn and many other celebrities on the island. Hanbury-Tension finalized his book, 'Worlds Within' and included the Baron as one of the most exotic characters he had ever met.
Dobronyi died of liver cancer on May 29, 2010, at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach at age 88. The estate has been auctioned on Ebay and other auction houses which included exotic pieces of history. Items in the estate included a sea serpent Viking ship by shipbuilder Bill Sjogren from Norway, artifacts from Bali, a dragon-headed gong stand from Tibet. Sculptures and jewelry Sepy crafted, as well as antique Chinese drum, a diminutive Balinese door made into a distinctive table, Cuban furniture, and his Asmat art from expeditions to New Guinea, once considered the largest private collection.
The item that got the most attention since Dobronyi's death was the 40-something-year old underwear of Queen Elizabeth II. The Miami Herald reports that the story of the Royal panties has circled the web and print magazines, after their sale was first reported by celebrity news website TMZ.com. Louis F. Cruz who markets and manages the estate sale, believes that the Queen's undergarments are authentic.
As the story goes, Dobronyi got them from a friend after they were left on a private plane when the Queen visited Chile in 1968. Hansons Auctioneers and Valuers, the same auction house that handled the sale of Queen Victoria's undergarments back in 2008 contacted the estate and expressed their interest in handling the sale.
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