Searching for Lady Anne Blunt in the very British, British Library

lady anne bluntLady Anne Blunt was an intriguing and romantic Englishwoman captured by the romance of Arabia. The daughter of the first Earl Lovelace and his wife Ada, and grand-daughter of Lord Byron, she was born in 1837. With her wandering travels in India and the Orient and passion for all things Bedouin, she certainly lived up to her romantic heritage. She had travelled extensively as a child with her father and was fluent in four languages. In 1862 she married Wilfred Blunt and the two of them travelled extensively throughout the East. He was absorbed by the politics of the East and was profoundly anti-Imperial, she followed in his thinking but her main interest lay with Arabian horses. Lady Anne was responsible for bringing the Arab horse back to England and established an Arab horse stud at their home in Sussex, Crabbet Park.

200px-LadyAnneBlunt_and_Kasida

The Blunts were the opposite of Alexine Tinne. In contrast with her massive entourage they travelled light, sleeping on blankets on the sand, in the company of and emulating the Bedouin they idolised. They claimed the Arabs were the purest race and lived the purest life and Imperial powers should be giving their lands independence. A prolific writer and sketcher, Lady Anne made three trips to Arabia with her husband. Her notes and drawings became the basis for her two travel writing books,  Pilgimage to Nedj and Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates.

The Blunts

Lady Anne Blunt died in Egypt on December 15, 1917. Two weeks later, on December 29, her obituary ran in the London Times. Here are some of the excerpts

A distinguished and well-beloved personality has just passed away in the person of Baroness Wentworth — better known as Lady Anne Blunt. It is now half a century since she and her brother Lord Wentworth (afterwards second Earl of Lovelace), attracted much interest in London society as grandchildren of the poet Byron. A few still remember her charm as a girl. Her face, with its exquisitely delicate features, dark brown eyes, and expression of high intelligence and warmth of heart, was attractive at all ages….

She learnt drawing from Ruskin. Her gift for sketching was unequalled, especially as regards horses, and the rapidity of her pen-and-ink drawings could never have been guessed from their minute perfection. … That her artistic and literary gifts are not better known to the world at large is due to her retiring nature and love of self-effacement; she always preferred to enjoy the triumphs of her friends. She was a first-class chess player, mathematician, and linguist, being a most distinguished Arabic scholar….

…and for years moved in the best literary and general society of her day, always holding her own and distinguished among the best of company. But her heart was not in drawing-rooms. She worshipped the sun and the wind and the hills and the freedom of outdoor life, happiest always in the saddle, or caring for the welfare of her numerous family of Arab horses, so well-known to all her visitors both at Crabbet and at her Egyptian home at Sheykh Obeyd, near Cairo.

…For those whom she has left here it is a tragedy. For herself, no. She lies for ever under the Eastern sun, in the land of her heart, and her memory will not soon fade. To the end of her life she had the heart of a child, the brain of a scholar, and the soul of a saint….”

Lady Blunt meticulously recorded and drew the places she travelled and her exquisite sketchbooks are in the British library, just round the corner from St.Pancreas station. A huge modernist building housing many of the country’s incredible treasures it requires a considerable amount of “procedure” to access the sketchbooks in the manuscripts room on the third floor. But once through that and seated at the big wooden desks with the works in cushioned trays before you, again, it is worth the wait.

Small, leather-bound and sometimes with wafer thin paper her sketchbooks contain dozens and dozens of exquisitely drawn scenes of their travelling life, camels stopped to water, distant vistas of desert passes and tents pitched for gatherings of tribes. Pencil, watercolour and ink, she has captured a time that has long since gone.

sketchbook picture camels waiting
Lady Anne Blunt, watercolour sketches from the collection of the British Library

MS 54048

 

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