”Painter, Gardener, Scholar”: Humphrey Waterfield, 1908–1971

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“Painter, Gardener, Scholar” Humphrey Waterfield, 1908-1971 13 May – 13 September 2019 1


“It is useless to try to describe what he was ‘like’— Painter, Gardener, Scholar”. Infinitely loving and yet essentially ‘a cat that walked alone’.”1 This display uses items from the Giles Waterfield Archive to explore the life and achievements of the artist and landscape gardener, Humphrey Waterfield. Giles Adrian Waterfield (1949–2016) was a distinguished scholar, museum director, and writer. His Archive was donated to the Centre in 2017 and—alongside material relating to almost every aspect of Waterfield’s life—also contains material concerning his uncle, Humphrey Waterfield. Trained as an artist, Humphrey Waterfield was also an accomplished gardener, developing his skills initially at Hill Pasture, Broxted, Essex—the garden he began to construct in 1936—and subsequently at the Clos du Peyronnet in Menton-Garavan, on the Côte D’Azur. The display draws, in particular, upon four categories of unpublished material in the Giles Waterfield Archive, all of which were written by Humphrey Waterfield’s lifelong friend and fellow gardener, Agnes “Nancy” Dalrymple Tennant: her memoirs of Humphrey Waterfield; a history of the garden at Hill Pasture;2 the memoirs of Nancy Tennant herself;3 and the letters Tennant wrote to Waterfield.4 It also incorporates research undertaken by the garden historian, Jean Cornell. The Giles Waterfield Archive has not yet been catalogued but is open to researchers. Further information about the collection can be found on the Centre’s website: https://www.paul-mellon-centre. ac.uk/collections/archive-collections/giles-waterfield.

(Front cover) Item 6 (This page) Detail from item 1


A concise biography of Humphrey Waterfield

Adapted from Jean Cornell, “A Dual Life: An Assessment of the Gardens Designed by Humphrey Waterfield, 1908–71”, MA in Garden History, University of Buckingham, 2015. In 1976, Hugh Johnson, writing as Tradescant in The Garden, described Waterfield as: “the most sensitive and original designer of gardens of the last generation”. During his lifetime, Waterfield’s garden, Hill Pasture in Essex and his other designed gardens, were well known and featured in articles in Country Life, Ideal Home, and House & Garden. Early Life & Education Derick Humphrey Waterfield was born in August 1908 at Hagley Hall, Rugeley, Staffordshire, the home of his maternal grandfather, John Pritt Gardner, a solicitor and land agent. His mother, Barbara, an only child, was brought up by her father and his unmarried sister. His father and paternal grandfather, Sir Henry Waterfield, were both in the Indian Civil Service. In 1911, when John Pritt Gardner died, Barbara Waterfield inherited £83,500, about £9.2 million today. In 1912, the Waterfields bought Clos du Peyronnet in Menton, on the French Riviera, where they tended to spend the winter, returning to England for the summer. During the First World War, the Waterfields had to remain in Menton, and Humphrey Waterfield became fluent in French. In 1918–1921, Waterfield went to Templegrove, a prep school, and then to Eton (1922–1926) before reading History at Christchurch College, Oxford (1927– 1930), where he achieved a first class degree. Whilst at Oxford, he decided to become an artist, and studied at Ruskin College with Albert Rutherston (1881–1953), before moving on to the Slade in the early 1930s. His early paintings were well received.


Nancy Tennant and Hill Pasture Garden In 1933, Humphrey met Agnes “Nancy” Dalrymple Tennant (1897–2005). He was twenty-five and she was thirty-seven. For almost forty years, they had an affectionate, but platonic relationship. In 1935, Waterfield decided to move from London to Essex. He found a piece of land of about three acres, later extended to six acres, in Broxted, near Thaxted and this became Hill Pasture. The architect and furniture designer Ernö Goldfinger (1902–1987) designed a onestorey studio, which Waterfield moved into on 1 April 1938. The garden had been started already in 1936, well before the house was built. In 1957, a second storey was added to the property. Second World War Sadly, in 1940, Humphrey’s parents, who were still living in Menton, took their own lives. Humphrey, who was a conscientious objector, joined the Quakers’ Friends Ambulance Unit and was deployed to the Middle East, Algeria, and lastly France, where he was taken prisoner when driving an ambulance of wounded English and German soldiers. He spent six months in an unofficial prisoner of war camp in Strasbourg. During the war, Nancy tended the garden at Hill Pasture as best she could, although the house itself was then rented out. The letters she wrote to Humphrey during the war form part of the Giles Waterfield Archive and contain many references to her visits to Hill Pasture. Humphrey Waterfield’s war diaries are in a private collection. Development of Hill Pasture From 1945 until his death in 1971, Humphrey Waterfield kept a garden notebook—also now held in a private collection—which covers the development of his garden at Hill Pasture. His paintings also documented how the garden developed. Articles reveal that Waterfield preferred the colours of the natural landscape, particularly white. He described how he planted his cherry trees so that wilder ones were near the garden 3

boundary, and what he called the more “sophisticated” ones were closer to the house. Like William Morris, he preferred “species” to what he called “improved” varieties, single flowers rather than double. Muted shades were his preference. Waterfield as an artist Waterfield’s greatest regret was that he never achieved success as a painter. In common with many artists after the war, notably people he knew like Cedric Morris and Edward Bawden, his type of painting was no longer fashionable. During his lifetime, he had just one solo exhibition, which took place in 1962 at the Adams Gallery, London. This was arranged by Clive Bell, who spent winters at Clos du Peyronnet. Waterfield lived principally on private income and on some garden commissions. Fortunately, a neighbour, William Palmer Mellen, invested money for him in shares from which he accrued considerable profits. Other Gardens There is no comprehensive list of Waterfield’s commissions, as his files were destroyed after his death. What is known has been pieced together from articles and memoirs. Garden design never interfered too heavily with his life: for instance, he turned down a suggestion that he might like to be involved in the landscaping of the new Essex University, as he did not wish to waste time in meetings and bureaucracy. We do know, however, that he worked on the following gardens: Clos du Peyronnet; Grey’s Court, Henley-onThames; Abbots Ripton Hall, Huntingdon; The Chace, Ugley, Bishop’s Stortford; Horham Hall, Thaxted, Essex; Val Rahmeh, Menton; and Villa Colfranco, Lucca, Italy.


Colour photograph of Humphrey Waterfield painting in his garden at Hill Pasture, undated. Giles Waterfield Archive


Large Flat Display Case

1 History of Hill Pasture garden, Broxted, undated AR: GAW/TN/1

Nancy Tennant played an important role in the early development of the garden at Hill Pasture. In her unpublished memoirs, which are part of the Giles Waterfield Archive, she recalled that by autumn 1935, Humphrey Waterfield, who was considering moving to Essex, came across a five-acre field which had at one time been the village rubbish dump. Although it was thick with nettles, the site was favourably positioned with a view across a valley to the west, and sheltered on the east side by a small spinney. Nancy also noted that rather than drawing plans for the garden, Waterfield, who knew instinctively how to develop his design, marked out the site with six-foot canes, while she herself took on the role of potential trees, holding a broom with a duster attached to the end.

Detail from item 1


2 a. Black and white photograph of Humphrey Waterfield standing on the site of Hill Pasture Garden, 1938 AR: GAW/TN2

b. Black and white photograph showing the garden and house at Hill Pasture from the south east, undated AR: GAW/TN/3A

c. Black and white photograph showing the garden and house at Hill Pasture from the south, undated AR: GAW/TN/3B

d. Black and white photograph of the house at Hill Pasture, close up, from the south east, undated AR: GAW/TN/4


(Above) Item 2d (Right) Item 2b

These photographs record the early development of the garden at Hill Pasture; at the time, the house was also under construction. According to Nancy Tennant, the first task was to plant a large thuja hedge with Moonlight roses planted to the right of it, which she gifted to the garden. Originally, Waterfield had intended to create a small garden contained within the two sides of the hedge, but opted to plant cherry trees on the slope which led away from the site of the house, together with a double row of trees at the garden boundary.


3 Black and white photograph of the house at Hill Pasture, Broxted, undated AR: GAW/TN/5

In 1937, Humphrey Waterfield commissioned the architect, Gerald Flower, who then worked for Sir ErnÜ Goldfinger, to design a resolutely Modernist single-storey house at Hill Pasture. Some years later, Flower added an upper floor, shown in the present photograph. In Nancy Tennant’s opinion, Goldfinger was a difficult character and she did not appreciate his visits to the house. Even so, she conceded that he could be amusing and Waterfield certainly got on well with him.

Item 3 10




Lanning Roper, ‘Garden of an ArtistPlantsman’, Country Life, 25 May 1961

a. Colour photograph showing Hill Pasture from the south, undated


In 1961, Country Life published an appreciation of Hill Pasture garden by the American landscape architect and writer, Lanning Roper (1912–1983), with whom Waterfield was then collaborating on another garden at Abbots Ripton Hall, Cambridgeshire. Roper explained why Hill Pasture was so remarkable: “First, because it has literally been carved from Essex farm and woodland. Second, because it has been conceived by an artist, who has thought in terms of a series of pictorial landscape compositions with architectural and sculptural features and has executed them with careful attention to form, colour and texture. Third, there is a curious blending of Riviera and English gardening, revealing an understanding and affection for the elementals of both. Last, more than most gardens of comparable size, Hill Pasture is a landscaped garden that is laboursaving owing to the considered selection of the flowering trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, bulbs and ground covers with which it has been so skilfully planted that Mr. Waterfield maintains it himself with the aid of one gardener three and a half days a week and occasional part-time labour”.5 12


b. Colour photograph showing “the Temple of Love”, undated AR: GAW/TN/7B

c. Colour photograph of the decorated lead tank with lead statue of Bacchus by Jacopo Sansovino (1486–1570), undated AR: GAW/TN/7C

d. Colour photograph showing the lead statue of Shepherd Boy, undated AR: GAW/TN/7D

As the garden matured, in addition to the extensive planting, Waterfield introduced a series of features, including the so-called Temple of Love, a series of large lead water tanks, statuary, and a swimming pool. Waterfield was able to afford the luxury of impressive garden ornaments owing to a windfall in the form of the shares being purchased on his behalf by his neighbour, the stockbroker, William Palmer (“Pussy”) Mellen. The ornaments, including the temple and several large octagonal lead tanks, were purchased from T. Crowther and Son, then based on North End Road, Fulham. The life-size lead statue of a Shepherd Boy was acquired by Waterfield, when he spotted it in the window of an antique dealer while driving through Hertford in 1969. Item 5b



Small Flat Display Case



Black and white photograph of Humphrey Waterfield seated on a grass bank, ca. 1920s

Letter from Nancy Tennant to Humphrey Waterfield, 10 November 1944



The earliest of the three photographs of Waterfield in the display, shows him in a suit and tie, seated on a grass bank. It was probably taken in the late 1920s, at the time he was studying at Christ Church, Oxford. His lifelong friend, Hugh “Cas” Mortimer-Jones, also observed how Waterfield’s interest in gardening stemmed from this period, when he took an interest in the modest college garden.

Waterfield and Nancy maintained their close friendship throughout his time as a prisoner of war through correspondence, and hundreds of letters from Nancy to Humphrey are in the Giles Waterfield Archive. The letter in this display, which is dated 10 November 1944, was sent to Humphrey, then a prisoner of war, from the Tennant family home, Orford House, an imposing Georgian residence, in the village of Ugley, near Bishop’s Stortford. In the letter, Nancy provided a report on the condition of the garden at Hill Pasture, commenting also upon the various plants in her own family garden. Waterfield returned to England in late summer 1945. 8 Black and white photograph of Nancy Tennant and Humphrey Waterfield in uniform, seated, 1939 AR: GAW/TN/11

Item 6


9 Selection of letters written by Nancy Tennant to Humphrey Waterfield during the Second World War AR: GAW/TN/12

Nancy Tennant’s wartime correspondence with Humphrey Waterfield covers a range of topics, although gardening often forms a focus—especially Waterfield’s garden at Brocksted. The airmail letter franked on 30 September 1943, which is illustrated here, was addressed to Waterfield at the 2nd French armoured division, based in Morocco, to which his ambulance unit was then attached. In it, she mentions the possible exhibition of Waterfield’s watercolours, as well as a conference for women which she had attended at the Royal Albert Hall, where the speakers had included the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. There was, however, also plenty of garden gossip. In another, more wistful letter, dated 10 May (no year given), Nancy recalls earlier, happier times, as she drank her tea in the courtyard and remembered taking on the role of a potential cherry tree, while Waterfield ran around the garden working out its plan.

Letter from item 9


10 Black and white photograph of Humphrey Waterfield with his painting, A Scene in Regent’s Park, ca. 1934 AR: GAW/TN/9

After graduating from Oxford, Waterfield’s parents hoped that he would follow a career in the Diplomatic Service, although, according to Nancy Tennant, since he had begun to paint, they agreed that if he obtained a first class degree, he could enrol for a year at the Ruskin School of Art. As Nancy noted in her memoirs, he was awarded the best first of his year and was recommended to try for a Fellowship at All Souls. Waterfield continued to train at the Ruskin under Albert Rutherston, and subsequently enrolled at the Slade School of Art, University College, London. The photograph in the display shows Waterfield holding his 1934 Diploma painting from the Slade, A Scene in Regent’s Park.


Item 10





“The Group of Oxford Painters”, catalogue of an exhibition held at the Cooling Galleries Ltd., 92 New Bond Street, London W1, 3 January– 3 February 1936

a. Invitation to a preview of works by D.H. Waterfield (1908–1971) Thaxted Galleries, 1, Newbiggen Street, Thaxted, Friday 15 March 1991

Kindly lent by Jean Cornell

b. List of paintings and watercolours exhibited by Humphrey Waterfield at the Thaxted Gallery, Essex, 16 March–11 April 1991

Early in 1936, Waterfield exhibited several works with the Group of Oxford Painters in London. As the catalogue indicates, at the time, he served as Vice-President, while his mentor, Albert Rutherston, was Honorary President. Waterfield’s exhibits included two paintings of his parents’ garden, the Clos du Peyronnet at Menton, as well as more local views of Pinchpool Ponds, Essex and Saltburn-bythe-Sea, North Yorkshire. Among other artists who contributed to the exhibition were Frederick Gore, Kenneth Rowntree, and Anne Spalding, who had also studied with Rutherston at the Ruskin School.

Item 12b



c. Letter from Giles Waterfield to J.E. Shepperd, Thaxted Galleries, 4 January 1991 AR: GAW/TN/13C

Waterfield only showed his art occasionally in public. According to Nancy Tennant, painting was his passion, even though he was disappointed that it gained little public or critical attention. He held only one exhibition in London, with the assistance of his friend, the art critic, Clive Bell. In 1991, Humphrey Waterfield’s nephew, Giles Waterfield, and Nancy Tennant organised a commemorative exhibition of thirty-two of his works at the Thaxted Gallery, including paintings made at Menton, Hill Pasture, and his Slade Diploma painting.


13 Printed memorial booklet Humphrey Waterfield 1908–1971 by Agnes Dalrymple Tennant, 1991 AR: GAW/TN/14

To coincide with the exhibition at the Thaxted Gallery, a printed memorial booklet about Waterfield was made, with the text by “A.D.T.”, Agnes Dalrymple Tennant. She writes of his wartime experiences, when they were separated physically, yet bonded closely through frequent correspondence; and, while she noted how he had been disappointed to have gained a reputation as a gardener rather than an artist, Nancy conceded that it was through his gardens that he achieved his aesthetic goals. Hill Pasture, the garden he had created from several barren acres of wasteland, was in its prime by the later 1950s, and achieved full recognition by the National Trust in 1971. Nancy mentioned two other gardens: the Clos du Peyronnet, in Menton, which he had taken on in 1946, and which was now flourishing in the hands of his nephew, William Waterfield; and Abbots Ripton, in Huntingdonshire.


Upright Display Case

14 Watercolour, Vase of Magnolias, by Humphrey Waterfield, signed and dated 1949, 39 x 28.9 cm Kindly lent by Jean Cornell

This watercolour was painted in 1949, when Humphrey Waterfield was busy cultivating the garden at Hill Pasture. The magnolias featured here were probably cut from specimens in the garden in early spring. 15 F.R.S. Yorke, The Modern House in England, 2nd edn (London: The Architectural Press, 1947 [1944]) LR: 728.3 YOR

A trained architect, Francis Reginald Stevens Yorke (1906–1962), was among the principal promoters of the International Style in Great Britain. His first book, The Modern House, was published in 1934, followed by The Modern House in England in 1937. The second edition of the latter, published in 1944, contained sixteen new houses built between 1937 and 1940, including Waterfield’s house at Broxted, Essex, of 1938. The book contained illustrations and plans for over fifty houses, organised by building

materials: brick and stone, frame, and concrete. Waterfield’s house, then a single-storey building, was included in the section devoted to brick structures by leading architects, including Walter Gropius, Berthold Lubetkin, Eric Mendelsohn, and Serge Chermayeff. 16 Diana Baskervyle-Glegg, “Plants in the Picture”, Country Life, 23 January 1992 LR - JOURNALS - C

In 1992, twenty years after his death, Country Life magazine once more celebrated Humphrey Waterfield, this time as a gardener and an artist, with illustrations of several of his paintings, including a self-portrait, a view of the Temple of Love, and the “Moongate” at Hill Pasture. By this time, as Diana Baskervyle-Glegg noted, Hill Pasture was divided between two properties, and yet “some magic remains of what was once the poetic garden of an artist and discerning plantsman”. As well as Hill Pasture, the article highlighted another Waterfield garden, Grey’s Court, near Henley, designed in the late 1950s for Sir Felix and Lady Brunner. There, he created a walk of “unsophisticated” 23

cherry trees, blending silver plants with flint walls. It was, however, the Clos du Peyronnet, the parental garden that Waterfield had resuscitated on the Cote d’Azur in the post-war period, that now best showcased his talents. 17 Giles Waterfield, The Long Afternoon, Headline Review, 2000

“How could the garden not please, created as it was on six long-established terraces climbing the hill, with only the palm trees and the early mimosa—the inexpressibly soft yet gaudy, playful and highscented mimosa, preening itself against the sky—to indicate that this was not the natural countryside of the Riviera?”6


Giles Waterfield was the grandson of Derick and Barbara Waterfield, who purchased the Clos du Peyronnet, near Menton, on the Cote d’Azur in 1912. In 2001, Giles published a novel—The Long Afternoon—a semi-fictionalised account of the time spent by his grandparents at the Clos du Peyronnet. Here, they are identified as Henry and Helen Williamson, who arrive on the Riviera in November 1912 in search of a new life at the idyllic Lou Paradou. The novel’s ravishingly beautiful garden acts as a metaphor for the Williamsons’ exotic lives, as it did for the Waterfields. Yet the allure and enchantment of the garden paradise is undermined by the knowledge of their tragic deaths. The Long Afternoon won the McKitterick Prize in 2001. At the beginning of the novel, Waterfield evokes the atmosphere of the garden: 24

Colour photograph of a memorial to Humphrey Waterfield in the garden at Abbotts Ripton, undated. Giles Waterfield Archive


18 John Graham, “Death on the Riviera”, photographed by Neil Drabble. Tatler, August 2000, 295, no. 8 AR: GAW/TN/22

The article in Tatler was written to coincide with the publication of The Long Afternoon and includes a photograph of a young Humphrey, with his brother and father in the “lush, exotic” gardens of Clos du Peyronnet. In 1946, following the death of Derek and Barbara, Humphrey Waterfield returned to the family home at Menton, although the garden by now was overgrown and in a poor condition. Although they were offered £1,000 for it, Humphrey decided to turn the house into flats for rental and redesign the garden. In 1973, following Humphrey Waterfield’s death, the Clos was inherited by his nephew, William Waterfield, who had first visited during his boyhood in the 1950s. William’s early visits had been in winter, since Humphrey spent his summers at Hill Pasture. In 1976, William, who was trained as a botanist, made the Clos his permanent home and in time put his personal stamp upon the house and garden. Among his interventions was the successive planting of bulbs, to produce a display of flowers all year long.


Image of the garden at Menton, illustrated in Gardens Illustrated, June 2000, Giles Waterfield Archive


Acknowledgements The display and pamphlet have been produced by Martin Postle with the help of Bryony BotwrightRance and Research Collection staff. Special thanks are owed to Jean Cornell for her generosity and support.

Endnotes 1. A Memoir of Humphrey Waterfield, 1908–1971, written by Agnes “Nancy” Dalrymple Tennant, unpublished, undated. Giles Waterfield Archive. 2. A history of the garden at Hill Pasture, written by Agnes “Nancy” Dalrymple Tennant, unpublished, dated 1993. Giles Waterfield Archive. 3. The Memoirs of Nancy Tenant, written by Agnes “Nancy” Dalrymple Tennant, unpublished, dated 1986. Giles Waterfield Archive.


4. Letters to Humphrey Waterfield, written by Agnes “Nancy” Dalrymple Tennant, unpublished, dated ca. 1939–1945. Giles Waterfield Archive. 5. Lanning Roper, “Garden of an Artist-Plantsman”, Country Life, 25 May 1961. 6. Giles Waterfield, The Long Afternoon (London: Review, 2001), 5–6.

Detail from item 1


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