The Lewes House Brotherhood and Bloomsbury

By David Sox

 

Lewes House from the South, 1900Lewes House from the South, reproduced by kind permission of Gorringes of Lewes

The sheer proximity of Lewes House to Charleston, Rodmell and Asham should lead to speculation whether two extraordinary artistic groups encountered one another. As we will see there was intercourse of sorts largely due to Roger Fry’s involvement with John Marshall and his American expatriate partner, Edward Perry Warren, whose centre of collecting activities was in the East Sussex market town of Lewes from 1890 until the two died in 1928.

Both Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and their associates, were in the area much of the time Lewes House dominated the classical antiques market so successfully that Alexander Murray of the British Museum moaned that there was ‘nothing to be got nowadays’ as the Lewes House collectors ‘were always on the spot first’.

The Warren CupBasically the classical collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan in New York owe their existence to Warren and Marshall. Even in Britain several pieces remain attesting to their connoisseurship – ‘The Kiss’ by Rodin at Tate Modern, the Warren Cup (right) at the British Museum, and ‘Adam and Eve’ by Cranach at the at the Courtauld as well as important pieces at the Ashmolean in Oxford.

There was a significant reason that sisters Virginia and Vanessa do not mention Warren and Marshall. William Rothenstein – a frequent visitor to Lewes House and well known to Bloomsbury – put it bluntly: ‘Lewes House was a monkish establishment where women were not welcomed’. Men known to Bloomsbury were Augustus John, Auguste Rodin, Robbie Ross and Roger Fry.

Ned Warren – as he came to be known – did not like women and collected young men hoping to establish in Lewes, of all places, a fraternity of aesthetes based on Greek ideals. He had the money with which to indulge himself. Warren was the heir to an enormously rich paper manufacturing fortune in America. After Harvard, Ned read classics at Oxford and like Henry James he never returned home to live.

At Oxford Ned met John Marshall whom he persuaded to live with him. Theirs was described as ‘an incomparable friendship’. Marshall’s influence made Ned half-English and Ned’s made Marshall half-American.

Warren and Marshall - they called one another 'puppy'
Warren and Marshall – they called each other ‘puppy’

Soon others joined them at Lewes House. The two most significant, Matthew Stewart Prichard, brilliant, eccentric and even more a misogynist than Ned and John Fothergill whom Oscar Wilde once had in mind to replace Lord Alfred Douglas in his affections.

Even without the Lewes House boys, Roger Fry would have known of Lewes as his mother, Mariabella, was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Hodgkin, Lewes Quakers who once
lived at Shelleys which became one of the large properties in Lewes purchased by Warren. Today the property is still largely as it was when Warren owned it and is now a Hotel called Shelleys. Fry, Warren and Marshall also had friends in common; Robbie Ross, who boasted that he had seduced Wilde and introduced Fothergill to him, and Oscar Browning, an outrageous homosexual and delightful don at Cambridge. Ross was especially close to Ned and gave Fry his first one-man show at the Carfax Gallery in London.

John FothergillThe Carfax had been founded in 1898 with money from Ned and John Fothergill (right), who was introduced to Ned by Ross, managed it with William Rothenstein until 1900 when Ross
bought out their interest. Vanessa Bell’s first picture sale, the Spanish Lady, was made by Ross
in 1912 when he arrived at 46 Gordon Square to look at Duncan Grant’s latest creations.

Later Fry would face a hostile response from Ross in the Morning Post regarding his first post impressionist exhibition ‘The emotions of these painters (one of whom, Van Gogh, is a lunatic) are of no interest except to the student of pathology and the specialist in abnormality’.

Before encountering Warren and Marshall, Fry was well accustomed to homosexualists’ emotions. At Cambridge he respected and came to know well Edward Carpenter whose life with his working class lover was said to be the basis for E M Forster’s ‘Maurice’. John Addington Symonds admitted to having a crush on Fry as well. In a conversation with Clive and Vanessa Bell (around 1918) about homosexuality, Clive Bell was certain that it differed emotionally from heterosexual love, but Fry ‘…had no difficulty understanding homosexual love, for him the most important aspect in any relationship was the realisation of a separate personality’.

Therefore Fry would not have had any difficulty staying at the monkish establishment in Lewes. He was a frequent guest and in 1908 even brought his wife, Helen. There is a lovely watercolour by him commemorating the event and hanging in Lewes House today. It appears that Helen Fry is pictured in the garden with an umbrella. Another of the three women pictured might be Mary Bliss Marshall, whom Marshall married in 1907. She was the spinster cousin of Ned prepared to marry ‘any of the Lewes House bachelors’ according to John Fothergill. Ned interpreted the act as a betrayal of their common trust’. From a letter to Helen in 1906, Fry said that he had met Marshall (photographed below in their flat in Rome) in New York who told him that he ‘was over there to get married’. There was another reason for both to be in New York at the time as Fry and Marshall were employed by the Metropolitan Museum. A year earlier when Edward Robinson (for long close to Warren and Marshall) left the Directorship of the Boston Museum, he immediately went to the Metropolitan as Assistant Director (becoming Director in 1910). One of his first acts was to persuade Marshall and Warren to do for the Metropolitan what they had so successfully accomplished in Boston.

Marshall in the flat in Rome he jointly owned with WarrenJohn and Mary Marshall operated their collecting network from Rome, and among the many  treasures they acquired for the Metropolitan were some spectacular fakes. Three outrageous terracotta ‘Etruscan’ warriors. This would affect Marshall greatly and no doubt led to his early death. As with Marshall, Fry got along well with Robinson but his disdain for the Metropolitan’s dictatorial President, John Pierpoint Morgan – il Bobo Morgo – was well known.

Right – Marshall in the flat in Rome he jointly owned with Warren

Mary Marshall died in 1925 and for the last three years of his life Marshall was reunited to his ‘puppy’. The two died the same year, Marshall beaten down trying to track down the creator of the fakes he had sold and Warren following him months after. The two joined Mary Marshall in her burial place at Bagni di Lucca. Ned ordered a small Grecian urn to adorn the monument.

Another Lewes House ‘brother’ with whom Fry became involved was Prichard; the most cerebral of Ned’s boys and the one of whom Marshall was most jealous. In 1901 Prichard left Lewes to work for the Boston Museum and became close to Ned’s older brother Sam who was the President of the museum. In 1910 Sam committed suicide and some blamed Ned, Prichard included. He said that he would never see Ned again. Fry was impressed by Prichard’s radical thinking about art and was introduced to Santayana’s ‘The Sense of Beauty’ by Prichard at a time Fry’s own ideas were beginning to take a new direction.

Before Clive Bell arrived in Paris in 1911, Fry gave him two letters, one to Gertrude Stein, the other to Prichard saying, “He is a great friend of the Steins…. also a Bergsonite (the philosopher Henri Bergson). You might either avoid that subject, or be prepared to listen”.

As Frances Spalding writes …..’The year 1910 began as one of utter disaster for Roger Fry, his prestigious position at the Metropolitan Museum was abruptly terminated, his application for the Slade professorship at Oxford rejected … and the need to certify his wife and have her permanently committed to an asylum became a brutal reality’. Of course the next year Fry began his intense affair with Vanessa Bell. Similarly at this time matters at Lewes House had deteriorated. All of Ned’s closest companions had left. Two to marry, Harry Asa Thomas – Ned’s trusted secretary and friend – moved his family to Shelleys. Sam died from suicide and Ned was alone at Lewes House with a boy, Travis, he had adopted. Ned’s dream for a fraternity of likeminded souls had collapsed.

In their own way the tensions and emotional triangles at Lewes House were as intense as those of Bloomsbury. However, we would love to know if more connections between the two exist. Sometimes they crop up in the most unexpected fashion, as with a letter in 1921 from Vanessa Bell to Roger Fry where she says that she ‘had another letter from Mrs Fothergill who has a ready pen I see but nothing to say, except that she’s had bronchitis and is still in Paris. Does she really think you are in love with her? It is quite possible. Women are incredible’.

Mrs Fothergill would be John Fothergill’s first wife, Doris Herring, whom he met while the two studied at the Slade School, 1905 to 1906. Their brief marriage was unconsummated and ended in divorce. Doris worked in Rome as an artist until her death in the 1950’s and her selfportrait still hangs in the Café Greco.

The Chios headAt the ‘Art of Bloomsbury’ Exhibition at the Tate visitors could see another link between Lewes House and Bloomsbury, Vanessa Bell’s 1947 ‘Still Life with Head’ which is usually at Charleston. The head was cast from one of Lewes House’s greatest finds, the Chios Head, now at the MFA in Boston and greatly coveted by Rodin when he visited Lewes House. It is said that the cast was made at the ‘Lewes School of Art’ but the only institution known by that name was hardly the type of place Warren would have allowed a cast to be made from his great treasure.

Left – The Chios Head

 

Roger Fry introduced Eric Gill to Warren, and in 1912 he acquired a work by Gill showing a couple copulating. It is now at the Tate. In the 1929 Lewes House sale a number of works indicating Ned’s taste for erotica were not sold at that time, including ‘The Kiss’ and the Warren Cup. A number of other pieces were so sexually explicit that they were not even listed in the catalogue. His collection of ancient erotica was not officially accessioned and catalogued at Boston until the 1950’s.

Rodin and Rose Beuret in Rome
Rodin and Rose Beuret in Rome

In her 1915-1924 diaries, Virginia Woolf mentions Lewes 33 times, but not a word about Lewes House and its inhabitants. The closest she gets to Ned Warren is mentioning a visit to an auction at the White Hart Inn in July 1919. The White Hart is just up the street from Lewes House where Ned was living. Oh! how we wish Virginia Woolf had at least once turned her golden pen to discuss the boys down the street. What would she have said?

 

Text and images from leaflet produced for Lewes Heritage Open Days, 2006
The cover photograph is of Lewes House from the South, 1900
Reproduced by kind permission of Gorringes of Lewes
The leaflet was produced by Ann Spike 2006, and printed by the Print Unit Lewes District Council