Never the shy and retiring type, she is thought to be the inspiration behind the character Susan Alexander in Orson Well’s Citizen Kane.
Although contemporaries said she had a terrible voice, her fourth husband, the millionaire Harold McCormick, was to lavishly promote her operatic career, spending thousands of dollars on voice lessons for Walska and even arranging for her to take the lead in a production at the Chicago Opera in 1920.
Across six husbands (in 1936 the United Press Association estimated she had married fortunes totalling $125m), Walska accumulated a fabulous jewellery collection, which favoured the exotic.
Cartier was a favourite source of Mughal carved emeralds and rubies. However, she had a habit of constantly altering and adapting her acquisitions, returning the jewels to be reworked according to the latest whims of fashion.
In April 1971 in her 80s she consigned the collection to auction to Parke-Bernet in New York to raise funds to secure the future of the historic Cuesta Linda estate, near Santa Barbara, California, which she had bought with the encouragement of her sixth husband, Theos Bernar.
A copy of the Parke-Bernet catalogue accompanied this lot showing the two cameos – one carved with the profile of a kneeling winged angel and the other with a winged dove, emblematic of the Holy Spirit – when mounted as a necklace by Chaumet. In the late 1930s Walska was pictured wearing them suspended from ropes of ruby beads.