Diana Mabel Low, born 3rd February 1911. Died 20th May 1975.

Portrait of Diana Low, 1933 by William Nicholson

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.

The Misses Margaret and Diana Low by Sir William Nicholson 1926.

Brick House, Great Bardfield

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.

Peggy Angus – Self Portrait

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.

‘Geraniums & Carnations, Wittersham’   – Eric Ravilious.

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

summer dress

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

surgeon’s knife

To cut the wrongly

multiplying cells

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,

a dream,

Tomorrow’s gale will

sweep away.

It does not wake every day

To the facts which are and

do not only seem:

The granite facts around

your bed,

Poverty-stricken hopeless

ugliness

Of the fact that you will soon

be dead.

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

8 thoughts on “Diana Mabel Low, born 3rd February 1911. Died 20th May 1975.

  1. Lovely account, thank you. Just one thing, I think it was Edward Bawden’s parents who bought Brick House for them.

    Like

  2. A good summing up of her life – I am her younger daughter, so have read all about her! Just one thing, my parents moved from Underhill Farm in 1964, so when she died in 1975 they were living a few miles away in Stone-in-Oxney. I would love to know how you acquired the painting, The Ploughed Field. Could you let me know please? Philippa Price

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice to hear from you Philippa. I’m off tomorrow down the A74 M6 from Fife eventually I’ll be in Great Bardfield (this Thursday and Friday). On Wednesday tea in the garden in Seaford with Heather Ravilious, we’ve been friends since 1966 !! I bought Ploughed Field on Ebay a couple of years ago as stated in the blog. There was one of your mum’s beach paintings recently but it was very overpriced and didn’t sell. Your sister Jane is mentioned tomorrow morning in the FB group https://www.facebook.com/groups/488249232182567 it would be lovely if you signed up. Graham Bennison 07731904559

      Like

    2. Lovely to hear from you Phillipa, I bought the Ploughed Field on eBay, there was another one recently (seaside pic) but it was over priced and didn’t sell. I’m off south from Fife tomorrow and will be in Great Bardfield Thurs. and Fri. On Wednesday tea in the garden with Heather Ravilious in Seaford, a lifelong friend since 1966. Graham Bennison 07731904559

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s