The Waterfields of Tuscany

The Waterfields of Tuscany

        This month, the British Institute had the pleasure to receive as a speaker Nigel Beevor, the grandson of one of the main founders of the organization, Lina Waterfield. Here are some photos I took before the event started:

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The audience was numerous and excited as many of the British living Florentines were already familiar with the books within the collection and were eager to hear the story of Lina and her family from a personal perspective. And Nigel did not disappoint them – his narration was personal and filled with jokes and stories that no one aside the family would be familiar with. Before the presentation started, he even went around the audience and distributed a family tree which made it even easier to relate to his story. Here is a picture of him before the talk that I took taking him by surprise:

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The talk was based on two key narratives: the life of Lina Waterfield as a progressive British woman in Florence and one of the founders of The British Institute, and the artwork of her husband Aubrey Waterfield who was inspired by the Tuscan landscapes and produced high quality paintings undervalued during his lifetime. Nigel is the one that has donated the Waterfield collection to The Institute in 2001 so hearing the story from him personally was interesting for everyone attending the event. Kinta Waterfield, Lena’s daughter and Nigel’s mother, was also a main point in the presentation as she is one of the main sources for Nigel’s detailed knowledge of the life of Lena and her family. It was interesting to see the passage of time in respect to the different generations and value the fact that so much information and art has been passed down without the loss of the Tuscany tradition. In fact, the collection at The British Institute will serve as a tool for the passage of the Waterfields’ values because it includes research material, letters, essays, photographs, unpublished manuscripts, a printed book and a painting directly from Nigel.

Hearing about Lena’s life was particularly memorable since she lived through the First and Second world wars, and was always a key player in the British community in Tuscany and Italy in general even when times were tough and it was inconvenient to be here. She was very familiar with life in Italy since she had lived here for so many years, and she found it vital to share the news in Italy and her opinions with her fellow British citizens back home. She was the correspondent to The Observer and believed women should have careers and be the most active they possibly can in making a difference in their communities. A very surprising fact that Nigel shared was that his grandmother interviewed Mussolini many times – before the war and during it, and was never scared to ask him questions directly and openly (scandalously, Mussolini maybe even “made a pass at her” but as Nigel said “we will never know for sure”!).

Right before the Second World War broke out, her and her husband were living in their favorite villa in Tuscany even though they knew that the political situation was not favorable to them as British expats. They luckily ended up leaving the country the very night before war broke out in Italy, and went back to Britain. Nigel also talked about the art of Lena’s husband, Aubrey.

During the presentation we were able to see a dozen of his painting which varied thematically. Here are some of them:

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Quite interesting was that Nigel, of course knew the personal story of each and made sure to share it: we, the audience, got familiar with where the paintings are in the family house, how they have been saved through time and passed down the generations, and even what the individual inspirations were for some of them. One of them was not finished which Nigel attributed to Aubrey’s artistic impatience.The end of the talk was open to questions and the audience was very responsive to Nigel. It was clear that many had read Lena and Janet (her aunt)’s books and were curious with additional questions towards the pieces of literature. Nigel went into more details about Lena and Aubrey’s personal life and careers – some of the information is also available on the website in the section dedicated to the Waterfields of Tuscany collection.

By: Boyana Georgieva

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