The rare and the beautiful : the art, loves, and lives of the Garman sisters /
Cressida Connolly.
1st ed.
New York : Ecco, c2004.
xiv, 320 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
More Details
New York : Ecco, c2004.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. [297]-300) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
The Rare and the Beautiful
The Art, Loves, and Lives of the Garman Sisters

Chapter One

The Black Country

Walsall in the West Midlands has been called the ugliesttown in the world. One visitor described it aslooking like the worst of Ceausescu's Romania, only with fastfoodoutlets. It is notorious for its high incidence of muggingand its low property prices. Many of its shop windows are darkenedby heavy steel bars. There is a pawnbroker and a mothycasino and a pedestrianized shopping street strewn with an urbanconfetti of cigarette butts and chewing gum.

The Garman Ryan Collection had lain all but forgotten inWalsall's old library, where it had been put on view to the publicin 1974. But when it was removed to the specially built NewArt Gallery in 1999, there was a spate of publicity as arts journalistsand broadcasters saw the collection for the first time. Localrenewal schemes followed on the heels of the gallery's success.The disused factories below the gallery began to be converted,the litter-strewn canal basin cleaned and restored. An impressive, architect-designed new bus station was built, and a shoppingmall. Walsall was waking up.

The art collection at the heart of Walsall's improving imagehad been given to the town at the wish of one woman. Lady Epstein,née Kathleen Garman, was born only a handful of milesfrom Walsall. She and her eight brothers and sisters had been amost unusual family. They valued naturalness very highly; theybarely disciplined their children; they spoke their minds. Thesisters wore their hair straight and long when custom calledfor stiff permanent waves. They liked things to look effortless.Elaborate picnics appeared, as if out of nowhere, and theirhouses were models of elegant simplicity in which importantand valuable drawings and paintings would be propped casuallyagainst the walls. They accepted the most extraordinary coincidencesas nothing less than their due.

People fell in love with them. They were lovely to be in lovewith, passionate, generous, beautiful. They sent secret notes atmidnight and left their pillows smelling of scent. They gavepresents: books of poetry, music, wildflowers. They made dramaticentrances and exits, their arms full of lilies, haunting railwaystations throughout Europe, intoxicating their lovers withsudden meetings and long good-byes. On his deathbed, a formerlover finished his last letter to one of the sisters with "I donot forget you ever." To the poet Laurie Lee, Lorna Garmanleft an indelible mark on the rest of his life, an imprint of a"dark one, her panther tread, voice full of musky secrets, herlimbs uncoiling on beds of moonlight."

They sought adventure, emotional altitude. Color mattered. Their letters are full of it: the bright blue sky of the ItalianAlps, the scarlet leaves of a persimmon tree, the light-saturatedpalette of Mediterranean France and Spain, the purple robes ofa bishop at an abbey tea party, the rose-pink buildings of Tuscany,the magnificent vermilion of dahlias. To understand theGarmans, it is necessary to see that this world of color and intensitystood in sharp contrast to the dark, industrial regionthat they came from, in the shadow of the First World War.

Every night the sky was lit up by the flames of the blast furnacesdown in the valley, and in summer the pale roses in thegarden would be covered with tiny flecks of black. Soot fell likesnow. Smoke from the smelting of iron stained the sky, whilecoal inked the earth beneath. Even the trees were darkened, andthe rare black form of the peppered moth, Biston betularia, wasbelieved to have become widespread because it could camouflageitself so well here. Not for nothing was this region, just tothe northwest of Birmingham, called the Black Country. Untilthe late nineteenth century -- and again during the First WorldWar, because of the burgeoning need for munitions -- the areawas a hub of the iron and coal industries. There was so muchiron locally that even the street curbs were made of it. Anchorsand chains were sent all over the world, and the ironwork forthe Crystal Palace, the Avon Suspension Bridge, WestminsterBridge, and Charing Cross railway station was made here. A localvicar wrote, apparently without irony, that the peopleround-about were "never more happy than when enveloped ina cloud of smoke, for then, though the rays of the natural sunbe interrupted, the sun of prosperity gladdens its people."

It was here in the heart of the Black Country, to OakeswellHall in Wednesbury, that Walter Garman brought home hisbride, in the late spring of 1897. Walter was tall and dark, withexpressive eyes and arched brows. He wore a drooping mustacheand a slightly melancholy look, like a Spanish don. He had alreadybeen disappointed in love when a local girl broke off herengagement to him, but his heart gradually opened to the sweetnessof his new companion. Margaret Magill, Marjorie as she wascalled, was just twenty-one, while her husband was in his latethirties. The two had met while Marjorie was at school with threeof Walter's four sisters. When she took up a post as a governess inCoventry, she went frequently to see her best friend, Mabel Garman,at Yew Tree House, Great Barr, the Garman family home,just east of Wednesbury. Mabel had three brothers, and the familyrather expected Marjorie to lose her heart to one of them. Butthey were slightly taken aback that she chose Walter, the eldestson, as if she had blithely taken everyone's favorite chocolatewhen proffered the box. Much as they liked Marjorie, serene andpale and serious, with blue-gray eyes, fair skin, and long, chestnuthair, she was not a catch. Her mother was an impecunious widow,and the daughter, unlike the Garman sisters, was no beauty. Butshe was cultured and intelligent, gentle and kind and true ...

The Rare and the Beautiful
The Art, Loves, and Lives of the Garman Sisters
. Copyright © by Cressida Connolly. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Rare and the Beautiful: The Art, Loves, and Lives of the Garman Sisters by Cressida Connolly
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2004-05-31:
Connolly, the daughter of writer Cyril Connolly, has a bit of an in with bohemian England of the 1920s and '30s. As a window into that era, she chooses four of the nine Garman siblings: sisters Mary, Kathleen and Lorna, and (despite the subtitle) their brother Douglas. Just writing a descriptive sentence about the four is an exercise in name-dropping: among their spouses and lovers were artists, writers and patrons who shaped the 20th century, including Roy Campbell, Jacob Epstein, Vita Sackville-West, Peggy Guggenheim and Lucian Freud. Perhaps because she is a child of that generation, Connolly focuses on their family lives and the numerous ways they flouted the conventions of marriage and child-rearing. The Garmans, who were raised by servants and sent away to school, seemed unable to deal with the realities of keeping house and especially raising children. Connolly captures this irresponsibility as both a personal and a generational pattern. Beyond the personal issues, Connolly doesn't quite capture the qualities that made these siblings special. Despite their apparent talents and passion for life, they come across as people who were famous for knowing famous people. But there's an improvisational quality to their lives that must have been entrancing for their generation as it broke from tradition and forged a lifestyle and aesthetic for the modern age. Photos. (Aug. 17) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Publishers Weekly, May 2004
Booklist, July 2004
Wall Street Journal, August 2004
Washington Post, August 2004
Reference & Research Book News, May 2005
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
Prefacep. xi
The Black Countryp. 1
Londonp. 19
Sunsets etcp. 41
Magazinesp. 61
The Summer School of Lovep. 79
Wing My Heartp. 101
Martiguesp. 125
Peggy and the Partyp. 145
You Beautiful Creaturep. 167
The Poet and the Painterp. 181
Lady Epsteinp. 203
Our Winter Seasonp. 229
Dealing with Dreamsp. 247
Nothing in Moderationp. 261
Theo and Estherp. 277
Sourcesp. 287
Bibliographyp. 297
Acknowledgmentsp. 301
Photograph Creditsp. 303
Indexp. 305
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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