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Garsington, Rodmell and Sissinghurst: Three Sanctuaries

This talk will explore the gardens – real and imagined – created by three pioneering women writers and gardeners in the early twentieth century: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Virginia Woolf, and Vita Sackville West.

A note on tonight’s event:

We are continuing with tonight’s lecture as part of a considered policy by which we decide which public events to postpone and which to go ahead with.

In addition to making sure that the Museum is a clean and healthy environment, we have been rigorous in minimising risks to visitors and our colleagues. We ask all visitors and guests to wash their hands on arrival at the Museum, and to respect other peoples’ personal space.

In return, we ask you to follow government guidelines when you choose whether or not to come to the lecture, or to visit the Museum on another day: that is, ‘Anyone with a fever or persistent cough should stay at home for seven days if they live alone or 14 days if they live with others. Anyone who lives with someone displaying coronavirus symptoms should also stay at home for 14 days’. We also assume that people aged over 70 or with underlying health conditions will be staying at home.

If you would rather not come we will give you a refund in the form of a credit note. Please contact the office on 02074018865 for more information. 

Dr Claudia Tobin will discuss each of their gardens and uncover the connections in their social, artistic, and horticultural circles during the tumultuous first decades of the twentieth century.

Lady Ottoline Morrell’s Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire became a refuge for conscientious objectors and pacifists during the First World War. It inspired many of the artists and writers who gathered there, from Dora Carrington and Mark Gertler to Katherine Mansfield and Siegfried Sassoon.

Virginia Woolf, who was ambivalent about Garsington, found solace in her cottage garden at Rodmell, Sussex and wrote several of her best known novels in a hut next to the apple orchard. In the early 1930s, she became a regular visitor to the colour themed garden ‘rooms’ cultivated at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent by Vita Sackville-West. Sissinghurst’s gardens became ‘an escape from the world’, in the words of Vita’s husband and fellow gardener Harold Nicholson.

The gardens of all three women were refuges for conversation and companionship but also solitude and privacy. They were places where relationships, creativity and domesticity could be redefined. Through photographs and paintings, fiction and correspondence, this talk will tell the interweaving stories of these pioneering women and their garden sanctuaries.

Dr Claudia Tobin

  • Bio


    Dr Claudia Tobin is a writer, curator and academic specialising in the intersections between modern and contemporary literature and the visual arts. She is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Intellectual Forum, Jesus College Cambridge, and a Visiting Fellow at UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

    Claudia is the author of Still Life and Modernism: Artists, Writers, Dancers (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming in March 2020), and co-editor of Ways of Drawing: Artists' Perspectives and Practices (Thames & Hudson, 2019). She is currently writing a book about colour and the imagination in art and literature.

    Claudia has worked on numerous curatorial projects including Virginia Woolf: Art, Life, and Vision at the National Portrait Gallery (2014), contributing to Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by her Writings (2018, Tate St Ives Pallant House Gallery, Fitzwilliam Museum) as well as many exhibitions on contemporary artists. Most recently, she co-curated Jerusalem in Exile: Artist's Books by Kamal Boullata at Jesus College West Court Gallery, Cambridge (January-March 2020, then travelling to Beirut).

Image: Umbrellas, Dorothy Brett (1917). Image courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery