arts and design

The Great British Art Tour: a barn, a bomb and a bond that united three women

This intimate portrait of Edith (Edy) Craig provides a glimpse into the lives of three women who lived together, their home a lively and pioneering place, offering women freedom of expression in art, gender and sexuality.

The daughter of celebrated actor Ellen Terry, Craig followed her mother into the theatre, becoming a prolific director, producer and costumier. An early exponent of feminist theatre and a suffrage activist, she was a founding member of the Actresses’ Franchise League and the Pioneer Players theatre society, and produced about 150 plays in support of the suffrage movement.

In 1899, Craig’s mother moved to Smallhythe Place, a 16th-century property tucked away in the Weald of Kent. Craig and her partner, playwright and author Christopher St John (Christabel Marshall), moved into Priest’s House in the grounds. Artist Clare (Tony) Atwood joined the household after her London studio was bombed in 1916 and the three continued to live together for the rest of their lives. St John later stated that “the bond between Edy and me was strengthened not weakened by Tony’s association with us”.

Smallhythe became a vibrant place where creative spirits, friendships and collaborations grew alongside the picturesque rambling roses. It attracted theatre and literary figures, including Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and Radclyffe Hall. In 1929 Craig transformed a 17th-century thatched barn into The Barn theatre, which hosted numerous performances from luminaries of the theatre world.

Atwood had trained at the Slade and was praised for her studies of interiors, often adopting perspectives that created frames within a scene. Despite the intimate perspective adopted here, the bedstead echoes her earlier use of proscenium arches as frames in studies of theatre interiors – a subtle nod to Craig’s passion for theatre. This tender scene suggests a quiet moment of domestic contentment, while the array of papers and books indicate the pleasure Craig took in their home being a hive of creative activity. Her enthusiasm for communicating and sharing ideas with others here extends even to the cat.

You can see more art from Smallhythe Place on Art UK here, and find out more on its website.

This series is brought to you in collaboration with Art UK, which brings the nation’s art together on one digital platform and tells the stories behind the art. The website shows works by 50,000 artists from more than 3,000 venues including museums, universities and hospitals as well as thousands of public sculptures. Discover the art you own here.


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