Cheltenham Ladies College. Diana Low attended the College from September 1924 – July 1929. Diana was very involved in swimming during her time at Cheltenham. She was in Roderic Boarding House: RH Swimming Captain, 1927 – 1929 2nd in House, 1928 – 1929 College swimming team, When she left College she also presented a swimming trophy to Roderic House and this is inscribed ‘Presented by Margaret and Diana Low’ in 1929: it was only taken out of commission when Roderic House closed down in 1985.
Lino-cut by Diana Low (aged 16) for the college Magazine. Sir William Nicolson by Diana Low. 1932.Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
Diana Low, a student painter, was heavily influenced by William Nicholson. They had a short affair as recalled later by her brother in law.
Her parents “were great friends with Sir William Nicholson, really great friends, to the extent that their young and very pretty daughter was told nothing was better for her than to go and have lessons in painting from William … who was an extremely sexy man … immediately fell in love with Di, and when she was seventeen, maybe he was sixty-four … bewitched Di and they started an affair… The parents never knew, and went on loving William Nicholson and loving their daughter.”
During their affair they painted each other. William’s arresting portrait of Diana shines. It is an immensely attractive painting of a strong minded young artist.
Whilst at Cheltenham Diana was a prize pupil of teacher Charlotte Epton and also Gwyneth Lloyd Thomas. Charlotte married artist Edward Bawden in 1932 and his parents bought the couple Brick House which became a centre for many artists.
In 1933 Diana Low was introduced to Brick House, now also the home to Eric and Tirzah Ravilious. 22-year old Diana was invited for a six day stay by Charlotte along with another Cheltenham colleague Gwyneth Lloyd Thomas, an English don at Girton College, Cambridge. Gwyneth had kept in touch with Diana while she was studying at the Slade and also in Paris.
Tirzah recorded Diana’s arrival in her autobiography: ‘she was very attractive in a feline sort of way and she had a lovely figure and fair skin. She was full of energy and dived beautifully, but perhaps her chief charm was her naturalness and she dressed more beautifully than any other woman I have ever met. Eric fell in love with her at once and it seemed quite natural after what Charlotte had said (about Diana being a “naughty girl”) that she should take him off in her car for a days painting.
Over the next six months Eric continued to see Diana in London.
On a mild Friday in January 1934 another visitor to Brick House was Peggy Angus, a former student along with Bawden and Ravilious at the Royal College of Art. The Saturday afternoon was also warm for mid-winter but misty. An exuberant Peggy tore her clothes off and plunged into the cold waters of the River Pant, Eric and Diana followed suit while a disapproving Tirzah stayed on the bank.
At the end of the weekend visit Peggy invited the whole household to visit her at Furlongs her cottage hidden away in the South Down near Lewes.
Following the weekend Eric Ravilious commenced an affair with Diana but she soon pulled out of the relationship.
Peggy Angus’ cottage became a centre for visiting artists and writers and Eric Ravilious made his first of many visits in February 1934. This led to a further affair with artist Helen Binyon. Later in the round-a-bout of relationships Tirzah was in a relationship with Great Bardfield artist John Aldridge and later John Nash.
In the summer of 1934 Diana came to stay at Furlongs but distanced herself from the affair. Indeed, despite her father’s hostility to the match, she married Clissold Tuely a young architect in November of that year setting up house at 11 Queens Mansions, Brook Green, Hammersmith. Her sister’s husband Humphrey Spender recollected that Diana’s father refused to speak to them for many years.
The affair between Eric and Diana surfaced briefly over the following two years. In March 1936 Eric went to stay at the Tuely’s Underhill Farm, Wittersham.
Diana Low – fabric designs
In her autobiography Tirzah describes the turn of events: ‘Diana came and slept in his bed, saying that her husband wouldn’t mind. Next morning Eric observed that he obviously did mind, so he left for Eastbourne where I was staying. I wrote a calming letter to them and finally (Clissold) became more reasonable about the matter and this relationship was a good thing because it is always nice to have someone love you and be truthful in criticising your pictures.’
The relationship, however, continued for the next few months. In 1939 just before war broke out Diana, pregnant with her second child, drove over from Rye with her daughter Jane to Furlongs. The party there enjoyed claret before Diana drove back to Underhill.
The outbreak of war saw Ravilious commissioned as a war artist. In April 1941 Tirzah gave birth to Anne their third child. Eric wrote to Diana—‘It is a girl. Isn’t that nice.’
Diana later wrote to Eric asking him to become ‘a sort of unofficial godfather …a kindly influence to baby Jane.’
Whilst stationed at Dover Eric managed a visit to Underhill Farm, Wittersham when Diana had returned from Wiltshire where Clissold and her sister’s brother-in-law Stephen Spender were temporarily living.
In September 1942 Ravilious aged 39 posted in Iceland, was tragically part of a four-man air rescue mission sent to locate a lost plane. Neither of the two planes returned.
In December 1941 Diana had written to Eric and Tirzah: ’We both pine for Essex after the war.’ Diana and Clissold would stay at Underhill Farm for the next three decades moving eventually in 1965 a few miles away to Stone-in-Oxney where she died in 1975.
In all the talk of affairs and infidelity it is also important to note that between Ravilious, Helen Binyon and Diana Low there was mutual support and stimulation for their artistic talents.
Sadly Margaret Low (Lolly) died in 1945 having developed Hodgkin’s disease and died on Christmas Day. In 1937 Margaret married Humphrey Spender whom he had met at the Architectural Academy and who had an architectural practice. Humphrey Spender is famed for his work for the Mass Observation movement, taking pictures of daily life in working class communities. His most famous photographs are of the ‘Work Town Study’ (Bolton) taken in a period between 1937 and 1940.
Margaret’s brother-in-law was the poet/writer Stephen Spender and many consider his finest poem to be “Elegy for Margaret”.
Poor girl, inhabitant of a strange land
Where death stares through your gaze,
As though a distant moon
Shone through midsummer days
With the skull-like glitter of night:
Poor child, you wear your
And your shoes striped with gold
As the earth wears a variegated cover
Of grass and flowers
Covering caverns of destruction over
Where hollow deaths are told.
I look into your sunk eyes,
Shafts of wells to both our hearts,
Which cannot take part in the lies
Of acting these gay parts.
Under our lips, our minds
Become one with the weeping
Of the mortality
Which through sleep is unsleeping.
Of what use is my weeping?
It does not carry a
To cut the wrongly
At the root of your life.
It can only prove
That extremes of love
Stretch beyond the flesh
to hideous bone
Howling in hyena dark alone.
Oh, but my grief is thought,
Tomorrow’s gale will
It does not wake every day
To the facts which are and
do not only seem:
The granite facts around
Of the fact that you will soon
Over her final years Diana took to oil painting and a number of her paintings are now in the collection of the Rye Art Gallery.
Flowers in a Blue and White Jug. A Road Near the Sea. Portrait of the artist William Warden Conversation at the Tea Centre.
‘Across the Fields’ ‘Donkeys on a Beach’
And finally……the painting that started this whole wee project :- ‘Ploughed Field’….which I bought in 2018.
Graham Bennison 2018. Revised 27th October 2020. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist