Stephen Tomlin, ‘Lytton Strachey’ c. 1928

The Library: Stephen Tomlin was a sculptor and close friend of the Bloomsbury group; one of his most famous works is the bust of Virginia Woolf, the original of which resides in Charleston’s Studio.

This sculpture by Tomlin is of Lytton Strachey, the cousin of Duncan Grant. It was commissioned by Strachey in 1928, and captures Strachey’s long distinctive face and beard, and ambitiously depicts his circular spectacles. Strachey wrote of the portrait, ‘I sit all day to Tommy, who is creating what appears to me a highly impressive, repulsive, and sinister object.’[1]

Tomlin was educated at Harrow, together with Angus Davidson (lover of Grant in the 1920s), and after attending Oxford he trained with sculptor Frank Dobson. He went through a series of relationships with both men and women, and in 1927 married Lytton Strachey’s niece, Julia, separating five years later. Both Angus Davidson and Grant developed feelings for Tomlin in the early 1920s.

Tomlin’s relationship with Grant came to a height in 1923, when Bell wrote to Grant ‘You are at the moment no doubt sitting in the arms of Tommy – at least feeling quite happy, I hope, also not staying up too late.’ [2] At this point Grant was taking on a number of lovers, possibly in response to the dissolution of his longer affair with David (Bunny) Garnet. Bell wrote regularly to Grant to find out the details of his love affairs, asking teasingly ‘I wonder which arms are round you now, A’s or D’s or T’s or XYZ’s. Not B’s or are they B’s? It’s quite possible another B is with you and if so there’s no doubt where his arms are. But when you really make up your mind to leave them all in the lurch perhaps you’ll come to the country with me.[3]

Later when the sexual relationship had subdued, Grant remained friends with Tomlin and his subsequent lovers. One of Tomlin’s lovers known as ‘H’ became a particularly loyal friend to Grant, notifying Grant when police had targeted meeting places of the gay community at a time when homosexuality was still illegal. Grant returned the friendship and often lent small amounts of money to ‘H’, who returned the loans when he could.

Tomlin died at the age of 35 in early 1937, ill health exacerbated by alcoholism and psychological trouble. Virginia Woolf remarked it was a ‘tragic, wasted life’.[4]

[1]Tate, “Display caption, Lytton Strachey by Stephen Tomlin, 1930″, 2004, retrieved from
[2]Vanessa Bell to Duncan Grant, April 1923, TGA, quoted in Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant: A Biography, London: Chatto & Windus, 1997, p. 253.
[3]Vanessa Bell to Duncan Grant, April 1923, TGA, quoted ibid, p. 294.
[4]Woolf, Diary, V, p. 48, quoted ibid, p. 350.

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