Art and sculpture sale in Lord’s Wood

To many outside observers, the Bloomsbury Group appeared to treat life as one long picnic. Basking in the embers of Edwardian privilege, they seemed to spend their days writing, painting, debating and falling in love, on some perennial stretch of English summer lawn.

But there was another faction of the group so hard-working that they ate cold Spam out of tins rather than stop for lunch, their house smelt of disinfectant and they barely spoke to each other. James Strachey, brother of biographer, Lytton, and his wife, Alix, were pupils of Sigmund Freud and translated his Complete Psychological Works into English. They lived in Lord’s Wood, a Queen Anne-style villa near Marlow in Buckinghamshire, that, like Ham Spray in Wiltshire and Charleston in Sussex, drew all the principal players of the Bloomsbury Group to live or socialise.

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But Lord’s Wood had a decidedly uncomfortable atmosphere compared to the other Bloomsbury retreats.  Built by Alix’s mother, an artist and ardent feminist called Mary Sargant-Florence, it was dominated by some sinister paintings, including a large fresco of a row of blind men in the main hall. Cellophane was used to double glaze all the windows and the house was kept at a steady 80˚F, lest the wraith like Alix should catch cold. No loos were allowed instead, one had to pee outside. ‘They are the most charming people and the most curious,’ wrote the artist Dora Carrington, a regular visitor to Lord’s Wood. Virginia Woolf was less forgiving, describing Alix, when she became chatelaine of the house, as ‘mired in sepulchral despair’.

How different the place feels today, as the home of the art dealer David Messum. The dark conifers that used to surround the house like sentries have been axed to reveal a wonderful view of a Chiltern valley. Terraced lawns give way to lime-tree bowers, parterres, fountains and lily ponds. Dotted around the garden are 40 sculptures ranging in price from £3,000 to £35,000 by a selection of modern artists. Serena de la Hey binds willow to steel to create Cerne Abbas-style giants in three dimensions; Anthony Turner makes menhirs out of stone. But chief among them are the works by Dominic Welch, a young(ish) acolyte of Peter Randall-Page, who transforms blocks of stone into something light, almost ethereal.

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The old studio at the back of the house forms the most tangible link to the Bloomsbury Group. A bas-relief of Alix (known as ‘the Yeti’ by locals because she wore furs even on sweltering days) is set into the wall. Also on show are paintings by Mary Sargant-Florence of nude adolescent girls that would probably get her arrested nowadays. On sale here will be paintings by members of the Newlyn and St Ives schools.

Whether you want to enjoy some striking modern sculpture or to relive the strangeness of a long-gone set of English eccentrics, a trip to Lord’s Wood will not disappoint.

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Members of the public may visit Lord’s Wood on June 27 between 11am and 7pm, and on June 28 between 11am and 5pm, and thereafter by appointment by calling 01628 486565