Eddy Sackville-West

Eddie Sackville-West by Ian Campbell-Gray, 1920 (detail)

He was one of the most respected music critics of his generation, who left Oxford without taking his degree, having already published a novel chronicling an unsatisfying love affair. In matters of the heart, his tendency was to be masochistic and unhappy. His friendships were not so and were enduring: at Christ Church with Lord David Cecil, Anthony Eden, Eardley Knollys, and Adrian Stokes. Via Lady Ottoline Morrell, whom he visited at Garsington with L.P. Hartley and T.S. Eliot, he met Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf, and sidled into Bloomsbury.

Although his reputation has been over-shadowed by the fame of his cousin, Vita Sackville-West, his achievements were greater than the sum of her well-publicised love affairs or the renown of her jealousy over Eddy inheriting Knole, one of the great country houses of England, together with the title Lord Sackville.

In addition to being a novelist, critic, musician, musicologist, and award-winning biographer, he was a BBC arts producer, a trustee of Covent Garden, and boosted the early careers of Graham Sutherland, Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten, who in 1943, dedicated his Serenade Opus 31 for Tenor, Horn and Strings to Eddy.


Eardley Knollys

Eardley Knollys by Duncan Grant, 1956 (detail)

Latterly a painter, he was cultured, enquiring and gifted, although innately shy. Sir Harold Nicholson wrote of him as “that Hellenic vision with scented amber curls” when he was young, and in old age his twinkling blue eyes radiated avuncular warmth and an easy manner.

His paintings are free of all formality and belong to no school. He benefited from a wealthy upbringing and a decent education, but remained refreshingly un-elitist. He started working as secretary to the then owner of WH Smiths clearpores body and then attempted a film career in Hollywood. A natural Francophile, he once wintered at Villefranche with Jean Cocteau as his lover, whose play La voix humaine he translated, staying up all night to copy it on an old typewriter whilst Cocteau stayed under the influence of heroin.

Later he worked for the National Trust as a regional representative, and as a committee member for the Contemporary Art Society. He was forever interested in the art world, collecting pictures and dealing occasionally.

The friendship he formed with Mattei Radev in 1957 was platonic, and ensured him a worthy heir.


Mattei Radev

Mattei Radev by Robert Medley c.1970

His escape in 1950 from communist Bulgaria into Turkey was dangerous and inauspicious: living rough, dodging soldiers and risking his life trying to get across the border. In Istanbul, he watched over the sea of Marmora before selecting a British cargo ship bound for Glasgow, on which he stowed-away in a life-boat. Although the journey was hard, he encountered kindness on arrival that marked his determination to make his home in Britain, which he did for 59 years.

In London he worked as an orderly in Whittington hospital, where he met Patrick Trevor-Roper, the distinguished eye surgeon and gay rights activist who was a witness before the Wolfenden Committee, and in turn was introduced to Robert Wellington, founder of the Zwemmer Gallery, with whom he lodged for over a decade in one of the Nash Terraces of Regent’s Park. The painter Robert Medley then suggested that he make picture frames, and the idea gathered momentum so that in 1960, he started his own business with a loan from Eardley Knollys. From almost peasant origins, he became a quietly distinguished figure in the London art world.