Object Vita Sackville-West gave Virginia Woolf goes on display
The relic at centre of a 1920s High Society love triangle: How ruin from the ancient palace of Persepolis was gifted to Virginia Woolf by her lover Vita Sackville-West…and what became of it when their relationship soured over her many affairs
- Writer and gardener gathered the fragments from ruins in what is now Iran
- Gave one to her husband Harold Nicholson and the other to author Woolf
- Objects are being displayed at Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent
Pieces of a statue which Vita Sackville-West gave to her husband and lover Virginia Woolf are set to be displayed in a new exhibition.
The celebrated writer and gardener gathered the fragments when visiting the ruins of the ancient palace of Persepolis in what is now Iran in 1927.
She gave one to her husband Harold Nicholson and the other to author Woolf, but when the lesbian lovers fell out, she referred to it as ‘that paperweight’ as it came to represent the ‘ruin’ of their relationship.
The fragments – believed to have come from the stone beard of one of the Assyrian bull figures at Persepolis – are being displayed in an exhibition at Sackville-West’s former home in Kent.
A Persian Paradise at Sissinghurst Castle Garden will also display photographs of Sackville-West’s travels with her husband and some of the other objects she gathered along the way.
Pieces of a statue which Vita Sackville-West gave to her husband and lover Virginia Woolf are set to be displayed in a new exhibition. Above: The celebrated gardener with her husband Harold Nicholson at their home in Kent in 1932
Sackville-West gave one part to her husband Harold Nicholson and the other to author Woolf, but when the lesbian lovers fell out, she referred to it as ‘that paperweight’ as it came to represent the ‘ruin’ of their relationship
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Despite being married to Nicholson for nearly 50 years until her death in 1962, Sackville-West had more than 50 female lovers
Despite being married to Nicholson for nearly 50 years until her death in 1962, Sackville-West had more than 50 female lovers.
READ MORE: The scandalous literary love affair steamier than fiction: A new film details how in the 1920s Vita Sackville-West’s lust for married Virginia Woolf led to heartache and suicide
And her husband, who was a Labour MP and writer, also had a series of gay relationships.
Sackville-West met Woolf at a dinner party in London in 1922 and the pair had an intense affair from 1925 until 1928.
Woolf, who is best known for works including Mrs Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own, was married to fellow author Leonard Woolf.
Telling her husband of Woolf’s appearance, Sackville-West wrote in one letter: ‘At first you think she is plain, then a sort of spiritual beauty imposes itself on you, and you find a fascination in watching her . . . Darling, I have quite lost my heart.’
However, the relationship ended when Woolf was left unable to cope with the fact that Sackville-West had several other lovers at the same time that she was seeing her.
The pair went on to become firm friends, but that did not stop Woolf from taking her own life by wading into the River Ouse with rocks in her pockets in 1941.
Sackville-West wrote to her husband: ‘I think I might have saved her if only I had been there.’
The new exhibition opens this Saturday at Sackville-West’s former home, which is run by the National Trust.
Experts are considering the possibility that Sackville-West may have cut one of the pieces gathered from the Persepolis in half.
As well as the two she gave to Nicholson and Woolf, she kept a third from another part of the palace on her desk.
In 1934, while expressing her regret that Sackville-West no longer loved her, Woolf described the statue piece as ‘gathering dust’.
Sackville-West met Woolf at a dinner party in London in 1922 and the pair had an intense affair from 1925 until 1928. Above: Woolf in 1933
Meanwhile, Sackville-West said it was ‘that paperweight’ behind which Woolf kept her letters and notes from rival romantic partners.
The two fragments have been re-united for the first time in nearly a century for the new exhibition.
Sackville-West also gave Woolf a blue ‘cog’ dish that she bought at a bazaar in Tehran, the capital of what is now Iran.
The object is usually displayed at Woolf’s former home, Monk’s House, in East Sussex.
The researchers also discovered the history of a set of orange beads owned by Sackville-West.
They found that they were given to her when she and Nicholson were invited to dine with the Il-Khan, the supreme chief of the Bakhtiari Tribe.
She later recalled the ‘string of corals with which he was playing, slipping the beads between his fingers as he talked, as all Persians do; it lies on my table as I write.’
This image shows the ruins of the palace of Persepolis, where the fragments were taken from
The photographs on display were taken during Sackville-West’s and Nicholson’s travels in Persia
Sackville-West is seen on the back of a donkey during her travels in Persia (now Iran)
Nicholson is seen lying next to the couple’s Ford car that they were using on the travels in Persia
The couple are seen getting some help as they push their car after it has apparently broken down
Sackville-West and her husband are seen in Persia (now Iran) in the 1920s
Nicholson is seen climbing on to his donkey as Sackville-West sits nearby during the tour in Persia
Nicholson poses for a photograph. The image is one of several being displayed in the new exhibition
The couple also encountered camels on their journey, as this image shows
Well-known writer at traveller Gertrude Bell is seen in another of the images
The photographs on display were taken during Sackville-West’s and Nicholson’s travels in Persia.
One shows Nicholson wrapped up in fur, while others show Sackville-West riding a donkey.
Another shows Sackville-West sitting in front of a stunning mountain backdrop.
Also seen is an image of the travellers pushing their Ford car after it has broken down.
Nicholson, the son of a diplomat, was born in Tehran in 1886.
He returned in the 1920s to work at the British embassy and Sackville-West visited him twice.
She went on to publish two books detailing her trips.
Sackville-West also gave Woolf a blue ‘cog’ dish that she bought at a bazaar in Tehran, the capital of what is now Iran. Above: The dish with another matching one
The researchers also discovered the history of a set of orange beads owned by Sackville-West. They found that they were given to her when she and Nicholson were invited to dine with the Il-Khan, the supreme chief of the Bakhtiari Tribe
Nicci Obholzer, senior house and collections officer at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, said: ‘It is poignant to see some of the objects from her travels that Vita gave to Virginia and to Harold which have been reunited for the first time since they were given.
‘We hope visitors will enjoy finding out more about this period of the lives of two of the 20th century’s most eloquent observers and the new discoveries we have made about them that reflect the Sissinghurst we see today.’
Lindsay Allen, senior lecturer in ancient history at King’s College London added: ‘We’ve made some exciting discoveries at Sissinghurst that show the impact on Harold and Vita of their Iranian travels.
‘The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to open a window on British-Iranian encounters in the 1920s.’
For the exhibition research, the National Trust worked with Kings College London, University College London, University of Cambridge and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
A Persian Paradise opens at Sissinghurst on Saturday 14 October until 24 March and is generously supported by The British Institute of Persian Studies and the Iran Society.
For further information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst
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