One of the episodes in Vita Sackville-West’s life that previous generations were slightly reluctant to discuss was the passionate affair she had with Violet Trefusis. To be fair, Nigel Nicolson, one of Vita’s sons, did describe the relationship in his fascinating Portrait of a Marriage, first published in 1973.
Vita and Violet had been friends at school, but when they met again in 1918 they began, as Nigel Nicolson describes it, a ‘mad and irresponsible summer of moonlight nights, and infinite escapades, and passionate letters, and music, and poetry.’
By this time Vita was married to Harold Nicolson and Violet, under pressure from her mother, married Denys Trefusis in 1919. When Vita and Violet eloped to France in early 1920 their husbands set off in pursuit, chartering a small plane, and eventually persuaded them to return home.
Vita ultimately chose to stay with Harold and they went on to create the famous garden at Sissinghurst. But Vita could never entirely forget Violet.
The portrait of Violet shown above, by Sir John Lavery, was accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Sissinghurst in 2010.