Virginia’s Death


Leonard and Virginia Woolf had retreated from London to their country home, Monk’s House, Rodmell. Virginia Woolf’s apartments at 52 Tavistock Square and 37 Mecklenburgh Square were both blitz damaged and the countryside was more peaceful for both to work in. Rodmell, like Charleston are both located south-east of Lewes.


 Monk’s House, Rodmell

In 1940 Virginia had published a biography on her late friend Roger Fry and in the wartime conditions the, reviews were not abundant and although she had finished the manuscript for her last (posthumously published) novel, Between the Acts she fell into depression and was unable to write.


 Virginia Woolf’s writing shed in the garden of Monk’s House. 

Virginia had chosen to take her life and on that day was missing from Monks House, she had left a letter for him. After looking all over the house and garden Leonard was sure she would have gone to the river:

“I ran across the fields down to the river and almost immediately found her walking-stick lying upon the bank. I searched for some time and then went back to the house and informed the police.

On 28 March 1941, Woolf drowned herself by filling her overcoat pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse near her home.

Woolf’s body was not found until 18 April. Her husband buried her cremated remains beneath an elm tree in the garden of Monk’s House, their home in Rodmell, Sussex.

On the day of her death Leonard wrote:

I found the following letter on the writing block in her work-room. At about eleven on the morning of March 28 I had gone to see her in her writing-room and found her writing on the block. She came into the house with me, leaving the writing-block in her room. She must, I think, have written the letter which she left for me on the mantelpiece (and a letter to Vanessa) in the house immediately afterwards. 

Virginia Woolf’s Suicide Note to Leonard:

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ‘til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.

Virginia Woolf’s Letter to her sister, Vanessa Bell:

You can’t think how I loved your letter. But I feel that I have gone too far this time to come back again. I am certain now that I am going mad again. It is just as it was the first time, I am always hearing voices, and I know I shan’t get over it now. All I want to say is that Leonard has been so astonishingly good, every day, always; I can’t imagine that anyone could have done more for me than he has. We have been perfectly happy until the last few weeks, when this horror began. Will you assure him of this? I feel he has so much to do that he will go on, better without me, and you will help him.
I can hardly think clearly any more. If I could I would tell you that you and the children have meant to me. I think you know. 

I have fought against it, but I can’t any longer. – Virginia.


 Front cover of the New York Times, 3rd April 1941.

The news that Virginia was missing was posted in the papers, and although her body was not washed up for two and a half weeks it was presumed she was lost, feared dead.

Below the two quotes are from the diaries of Frances Partridge, wife of Ralph. Although she seems unaffected, it was maybe from being on the outer orbit of the Bloomsbury group.

April 3rd
Opening The Times this morning I read with astonishment: “We regret to announce that the death of Mrs. Virginia Woolf, missing since last Friday, must now be presumed.” From the discreet notice that followed it seems that she is presumed to have drowned herself in the river near Rodmell. An attack of her recurring madness I suppose; the thought of self-destruction is terrible, dramatic and pathetic, and yet (because it is the product of the human will) has an Aristotelian inevitability about it, making it very different from all the other sudden deaths we have to contemplate.

April 8th
Sat out on the verandah, trying to write to Clive in answer to his letter about Virginia’s death. He says: “For some days, of course, we hoped against hope that she had wandered crazily away and might be discovered in a barn or a village shop. But by now all hope is abandoned … It became evident some weeks ago that she was in for another of those long agonizing breakdowns of which she has had several already. The prospect two years insanity, then to wake up to the sort of world which two years of war will have made, was such that I can’t feel sure that she was unwise. Leonard, as you may suppose, is very calm and sensible. Vanessa is, apparently at least, less affected than Duncan, Quentin and I had looked for and feared. I dreaded some such physical collapse as befell her after Julian was killed. For the rest of us the loss is appalling, but like all unhappiness that comes of ‘missing’, I suspect we shall realize it only bit by bit.”

After the funeral of Virgina, Leonard buried her ashes at the foot of the great elm tree in their garden. There were two great elms there with boughs interlaced which they always called Leonard and Virginia. In the first week of January 1943, in a great gale one of the elms was blown down.

Leonard Woolf – The Journey not the Arrival Matters, Hogarth Press, 1969.
Frances Partridge – A Pacifist’s War, Hogarth Press, 1978
New York Times, 3rd April 1941.


Here are a set of prints I found from when I was a student doing printmaking and illustration. Many are using photographs from trips to California or my friends.

Lucia Moholy

This is a link to a podcast about Lucia Moholy, below is a short summery of the show, but it’s worth while while listening.

Lucia Moholy was a photographer and her work documented much of the of the Bauhaus’s output, from architecture to the products it exhibited and promoted. When fleeing Germany Lucia Moholy entrusted her photo collection of works and negatives to Walter Gropius who then refused to return them and then went out of his way to deny her the credit and royalties of her own work.

Moholy fled Germany to Prague temporarily to stay with family, and then made her way through Switzerland, and then Austria, and then Paris, eventually settling in London. Moholy weathered out the war in England. While there, she worked as a portrait photographer for British high society, and also published A Hundred Years of Photography, a book about the medium’s history.

Moholy did not get physical possession of her original material until 1957, but even then she only could recover a portion of them, 230 out of the 560 Bauhaus-era negatives she took, while 330 negatives, according to Moholy’s own card catalogue, are still missing. Her 1972 publication, Moholy-Nagy Notes, was an attempt to reclaim credit for her work that was printed without permission. After her death, the collection of negatives was donated to the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin.

Ina Boyle

Until a few days ago I didn’t know of Ina Boyle or her work. Boyle was born in Bushey Park near Enniskerry, County Wicklow, and grew up in a restricted circle of her mother, father and sister. Her first music lessons were with her father William Foster Boyle (1860–1951), who was curate at St. Patrick’s Church, Powerscourt, and was given violin and cello lessons by her governess with her younger sister Phyllis.

From the age of eleven, she studied theory and harmony with Samuel Myerscough, the English organist who founded the Leinster School of Music in 1904. From 1904 onwards, she also undertook lessons via correspondence with Charles Wood, who was married to Boyle’s cousin Charlotte Georgina Wills-Sandford.

Charles Herbert Kitson encouraged her to compose the two anthems published in 1915. From 1923, Boyle began to travel to London to take lessons with Ralph Vaughan Williams at his home in February 1923.

Working most days she returned to Ireland and out of a social loop, it was hard to promote her work outside of letters. Her output is remarkable as she worked composing for orchestra in her rural home.

The other John Maltby

John Maltby (1910-80) rose to prominence during the thirties, when the camera was influencing architectural practice and criticism more than ever before and when the International Style was gaining a tentative foothold. In the same way as Claude Gravot was the favoured photographer of Le Corbusier, so Maltby was closely allied to Lubetkin, one of the great modernist imigri architects working in Britain at the time.

Maltby also had a lucrative commission from Odeon Cinemas – to photograph every theatre in the Odeon cinema chain. His photographs show the wonderful Art Deco architecture as well as members of staff.

Odeon Cinema, Conway Bay

After World War II and in stark contrast to the opulence of the Art Deco cinemas, his photographs of Alison and Peter Smithson’s Hunstanton school were admired and reproduced around the world, while his commercial work helped to spread the popularity of the Contemporary look.

Old station, Newmarket, 1949

John Maltby’s career spanned five decades and produced some of the most enduringly evocative images of British architecture and design during the twentieth century, yet his name remains relatively unknown. There are a number of reasons for this undeserved obscurity. He never became official photographer to a leading journal with his own by-line, as, for example, Dell & Wainwright did at the Architectural Review, but remained a freelance with a varied clientele.

The ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition, 1946. Bawden Wallpaper and Sutherland print.

His work, though widely reproduced, was often uncredited. In addition, this work, embracing as it did a broad range of subject matter such as interior design, industry and product manufacture, as well as architecture, was far more diffuse than that of his narrowly focused contemporary practitioners in architectural photography. Above all, however, the reason can be found in the innate modesty which once led Maltby to describe himself simply ‘a record photographer’ and saw him steadfastly rebuff all attempts to intellectualise his work.

While critics rightly laud the great masterpieces of architectural photography, it is often the seemingly more mundane but solidly professional compositions of photographers such as John Maltby, which prove to have the more telling contribution to architectural discourse.

A Perfect Model

With the sad news of Ronald Blythe’s death comes an interesting question. What happens to Wormingford’s Bottengoms Farm? Blythes estate has been settled up and I am now the owner of some of Christine Nash’s works.

Christine Kuhlenthal – Standing Nude, 1913

I find her work so significantly because of her early links with Dora Carrington and the Slade but also her affect on John. This drawing was for the Slade Figure Prize in 1913. The images below show that the drawing is from the Prize as it’s the same model used for Dora Carrington’s winning entry. Alongside Carrington in her class would be Mark Gertler, Paul Nash at the Slade.

Christine also worked in the Omega Workshops for the Bloomsbury group, mostly sewing Vanessa Bells fabrics into dress designs.

She met and married painter John Nash. ‘One artist in the house is enough’… that’s what Christine told Ronald Blythe. However history lost a good artist when she gave up art for acting and country dancing so not to upset John. During the end of her time at the Slade School of Fine Art she discovered she had glaucoma. It was too difficult to paint sometimes and she needed glasses to work, but she still could.

When Tirzah Garwood was dying it was Christine Nash who found her a nursing home in Copford and went to visit her with art materials most days. When she died John and Christine picked flowers from their Wormingford garden for her grave. She has been anonymous in so much history.

The nude drawing is also featured in Blythe’s book First Friends, published first by the Fleece Press and then Viking. Pictures like this are rare and to be cherished.

Bring me the head of Hepworth!

It’s rather annoying to loose one’s keys; to search the house, from worktop – to hallway table, your coat pockets and then find them in the jeans you wore yesterday that had been screwed up and posted in the laundry bin. But it must be another thing to lose a sculpture.

The photographs here are of a lost work by John Skeping of his first wife, Barbara Hepworth made in Rome. It must have weighed a lot, it’s not small and somehow it is missing.

Skeaping wrote in his memoirs that he had advertised for the sculptures return and to find information on where it might be today. Might it be in an Italian household somewhere? Who knows. The mystery lives on for now. Finding it would be the sensation of the modern age.

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Harlton.

Within cycling distance from my home is the church at Harlton.  The village is known now as the home of Gwen Raverat from 1925 to 1941, although she is buried with her family in Trumpington.


There are various monuments over the church, in windows and on plaques. Also over the church are bits of scratched graffiti as well as a large monument in alabaster and marble.


The Fryer Monument

The first John Fryer, father of Thomas Fryer, the elder of the men commemorated on the monument, was born at Balsham and educated at Eton, King’s College Cambridge, and the University of Padua, then the greatest medical school in Europe. Although he was for a time a Lutheran, and was indeed imprisoned for heresy in the 1520s, by 1561 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for Catholicism. He was released in 1563, but died of the plague in October of that year. 


A scratched Elizabethan gravedigger with spade.


Said to be a consecration mark this pattern can be found all over the country, in churches, barns, castles and on furniture. Most people call them Daisy Wheels or Hexfoils.

The root screen below is said to be Cambridgeshire’s only one made totally of stone.



The rector of the church in 1908-1922 was William Ellison and his son, Jan was the carver of the twelve disciples in the reredos – in the style of Eric Gill.  One of eight children, Henry Jan was born in Harlton, and studied sculpture in Paris with Ossip Zadkine. There he met many of the key figures of the artistic avant-gardes of the 1920s and ’30s. In 1935 he designed sculpture for Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry’s Sun House in Hampstead. 

After working as an intelligence agent in the Middle East during World War Two, he re-trained in ceramic studies at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London. He set up the Cross Keys Pottery in Cambridge with his wife Zoë. The church now has three of their vases inside and two wall planters. 


Some Russian Artists

In my shopping habits, I end up with lots of odd periodicals. This one from The Egoist Press’s magazine The Tyro (1922) has a curious set of editorial quirks – An essay on Russian Artists by Dismorr and an illustration by a young Cedric Morris. It sadly is a home for more of Wyndham Lewis’s ravings on art. The show was likely the 1921 Exhibition of Russian Arts and Crafts at the Whitechapel Galleries. It featured work by artists fleeing the revolution and living in London and Paris. Cagall, Goncharova, Larionov, Vasil’eva, Jacques Lipchitz and Arkhipenko and Pilichowski.

Some Russian Artists by Jessica Dismorr

THE show of exiled Russians at Whitechapel was noteworthy not for the artistic achievements, but as an expression of national character in art..
No other country of Europe has such marked æsthetic predilections. A bias towards clearness of presentment, emphatic shapes and strong colour is hers by inheritance. Naiveté, a farce in Paris and London, is true here. Toys and eikons give with homely terseness the character of the race.

The work of Goncharova is a good example of the toy-making gift. Inventiveness sprung directly from tradition reached in her setting to the “Coq d’or” its finest flower. At Whitechapel she exhibits cubist devices grafted on to immemorial patternings of peasant costume. Her juxtaposed chromes and majentas, so “moderniste” and daring, are commonplaces of the primitive steppe village.

Sarionoff plays a more involved game, dovetailing bright splinters of colour into the forms of men and objects. By his method much animation is suggested in the artificial stage atmosphere for which he works. Vassilieva paints dexterously a world in which all surfaces are fresh paint, all people dolls, all manners the story-book code.

Chagal, wandering Jew, mentally native to Russia is the curious vessel of the national spirit. His subject matter is legend and fairy- tale, his personal adventures or the bald drama of peasant life. Not an illustrator, he is a summoner of forms, all of which have story as well as shape. Men, small and large, numerous important animals, fantastic suns and moons, carts and churches jostle one another throughout these amazing designs. Here, though natural congruities are outraged, there is a plastic orderliness preserved as by a miracle.

Two sculptors of talent seek emancipation of a different kind.
Archipenko has been known in Paris exhibitions for block-like stone pieces, so sparingly treated by the chisel as to leave all their natural weight and inertia. A change of intention is seen in his newest works which possess on the contrary great formal variety. Freeing his subject from all but certain selected aspects he traces in air the whorls and spirals of a sculptural shorthand.

With Lipschitz we find a fiercer disdain of realism. The sources of human form disappear as his scheme develops, and a new thing is produced relying upon itself for significance. He works to discover an ideal organisation, one plane pre-supposing another till the sum of parts is reached. Such an endeavour is a searching test of natural gift, for in those polar regions of conquest it has no allies. When Lipschitz fails it is due to an enterprise supported by a talent not equally mature.
Jessie Dismorr.

Ghost House

Following on from this post, on how modernism flowered in Britain, here I focus on Jim Ede and Kettles Yard.

Harold Stanley Ede – House with Red Roof, 1928

One of the young modernist (Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska) supporters was Jim Ede, a painting student from the Slade School of Art, now working as an Assistant at the Tate Gallery at this critical time in British Art from 1921-1936. During his tenure he tired to introduce modern art into the Tate Gallery, and although it is rather unclear how much of a legacy he left at the Tate, but he made many connections in the job and championed modern artists that the Tate would later acquire for their collections in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

I gave up painting and became absorbed in the work of contemporary artists. I wrote a great deal about modern painting and sculpture, and came to know most of the leading artists of the day, and also the ones who were not yet known.

Jim Ede on his time at the Tate Gallery.

During Ede’s time at the Tate, many other people had championed modern art and become famous for it – from Clive Bell and Roger Fry making the case for the Post Impressionists. As well as Kenneth Clarke whose tastes were much more broader, and who effectively helped preserve the artists in Britain during the Second World War with the Recording Britain project and by guiding the War Artists Scheme into fruition and saving artists being on the front lines of combat.

After leaving the Tate in some frustration in 1936, Ede moved to Morocco, living in a custom built modernist house called Whitestone from 1937 to 1952. After this Ede and wife Helen moved their family moved near Blois in France. During Ede’s time away from Britain, many of the artists he championed had moved to St Ives in Cornwall to make an artist colony and had become more popular. The move to St Ives wasn’t anything new or odd and had happened in fads with various sets of Victorian painters who went for the brighter light and more consistent weather.

The art collection Ede had amassed before leaving the Tate was rather interesting and extensive, some of these can be seen in his home in Tangier as with, Boy with cat by Christopher Wood. Ede also acquired half the estate of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska after the artists death from his wife, and then wrote Savage Messiah about Henri’s life.

Ede had acquired many paintings by an artist Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood had discovered. This was Alfred Wallis, a retired fisherman who started to paint when his wife had died, “for company” as he wrote to Ede. His paintings were mostly memories of his life at sea on boats, as well as views of St Ives. His paintings were going cheap and many in the St Ives circle where able to afford some.

Alfred Wallis – St. Ives Harbour, 1932-33

What was exciting to the artists was Wallis’ lack of training and with that, no need for perspective. The dock quay in the painting above, shifts off and the buildings appear on their side. The ship is out of proportion but it all feels like the perspective of a child. They had found of the truest modernists. One with no training but saw things in a primitive but accurate way.

Jim his wife Helen moved to Cambridge in 1957, buying a set of cottages, preserved from the old Kettles Yard, and transformed into a single dwelling by changing their old doors into bay windows and adding a turret for a circular staircase. The cottages were not saved by him, but by the local preservation society who used them to block the view from Castle Hill of new houses from the church. He filled this new home with his collection and for two hours in the weekdays, opened his house up to the curious.

Kettle’s Yard was firstly a private collection of art and craft collected by Ede. In 1957 he began opening to the public in the afternoons.

The architect who converted the cottages into a home was Rowland de Winton Aldridge and later, the exhibition space you walk through the house to, was added by Leslie Martin and David Owers in 1969-1970.

The 1970s cottage extension area can be seen in the magazine above on the right. This was a space for the whole collection of Jim Ede to be spaced out, some of the works being monumentally large and would have dominated the cottage house. The 70s extension was also a space for musical recitals. The inaugural concert of the 1970s extension was given by Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim. In 1973, the Ede’s left for a flat in Edinburgh.

In 1970 an extension was built for the sole purpose of exhibitions and performances and in June 1971 Henry Rothschild began his association with Ede and Kettle’s Yard with a large exhibition simply called “Twenty British Potters”.

Old Kettles Yard: in a circular shape it was perfect for exhibitions.

After the Edes left Kettle’s Yard, curators took over from where they had left off. Jeremy Lewison, the curator between 1977 and 1983, made the mistake of installing bookshelves in the library, moving the chest of drawers, and relocating Gaudier-Brzeska’s Caritas from its oval table to a niche by the window – and ‘all hell broke loose’. Ede sent Lewison sketches and photographs annotated with notes to ‘correct’ the moves. …‘Ede’s particular constellations of pebbles, shells and sculptures are still painstakingly preserved today, the lemon and cut local wildflowers replaced every week (daffodils in spring to talk chattily with the lemon and the Miró).

Kettles Yard means many things to many people, but it is seen as a goal for the minimalism most people seek in the home. It has also been pervasive, as through the eyes of interior designers and the pages of endless editorials, it is a topic that bounces around in an annual cycle of features: the over animated designs of William Morris designs, the do-it-yourself style of hand painted Charleston interiors of the Bloomsbury group and then Kettle’s Yard’s white washed interiors for a monastic calm.

Kettles Yard isn’t really about the artwork for me, but the objects. I find the simple designs of the Georgian chest of drawers and the stickback chairs mixed with spode plates on shelving to be rather charming. It is not what you can aquire, but what you can live without. It is also interesting that a man obsessed with modernist items didn’t fill his home with chrome and glass art deco units like many collectors, but maybe he got this out of his system in Morocco. Although Kettles Yard isn’t full of the best of British craftsmanship, the pieces all work in their curiosity and tone, antique furniture that though use has patina.

The real lure however is down to it’s cave style, a chain of rooms, each give intimacy, corners and alcoves that are hidden, and I think that is what people really crave. It is also about how to use the architecture to show off the artworks and items in the best way. This certainly is what the house does. This might be in part the good taste of his wife Helen, but it was also championed with the friendship of Henry Rothschild, who founded the London shop Primavera, and in the 1960s moved the shop to Cambridge. Rothschild would use the gallery space of Kettle’s Yard to exhibit many of his shows, from Indian weavings to Contemporary Ceramics.

Ben Nicholson, Goblet and two pears, 1924

Ede’s ethos in decorating this home is to make a calm area. He also liked to find possessions that had a meaning to an artwork; He put a set of black bowls under Nicholsons painting of goblet and two pears, while next to a Blue painting by Miro with a yellow dot, he put a lemon on a pewter plate to mirror the image. He saw these arrangements almost as echos of the paintings themselves. He also delighted in bringing nature into the house with a selection of found objects, from pebbles to a tumbleweed in the fireplace.

I like to keep very quiet in a room and to have it always still; for this reason I want a room to be orderly. It is to me as if it were a pool of silence, and just as a pool when stirred loses its transparency, so a room is stirred by movement. Sometimes I find that if I don’t go into a room for a week, and then gently open the door and look in, I am instred invaded by its stillness; and if I tip-toe into it, that stillness stays about me for some moments.

The Spectator – Volume 257, 1986

Ede’s guide book to Kettle’s Yard, A Way of Life, is just as religious and spiritual as you might come to expect. But the idea of a space lived in was also to avoid clutter. However – even if the new gallery space is poorly designed and filled with dreadful works that represent nothing to do with the house and Jim Ede, but more to do with the curators career pathway at least the house is preserved.

The new area of the gallery and gift shop was converted by Jamie Fobert Architects in 2018 and gives the place the feel of an office block that has been given a council grant become a gallery. Pokey whitewashed rooms and a perplexing amount of study rooms, that rarely used for the public.