Obituary: Deirdre Bland

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The Independent Culture
DEIRDRE BLAND was a famous beauty and a beacon of style, both in herself and in the art gallery she ran in her home in Sussex in the 1970s and 1980s.

She was born Deirdre Hart-Davis in 1909. Her mother Sybil was the sister of Duff Cooper and the descendant of the Irish actress Mrs Jordan; as a great admirer of the Irish playwrights, she named Deirdre after Synge's "Deirdre of the Sorrows".

Deirdre's brother Rupert, two years her senior and later a distinguished publisher, declared of his sister: "I loved her from the moment she was born". As children they were drawn by Augustus John and painted by William Nicholson. Rupert's nickname for Deirdre was "Tow", her name for hair when a baby - hers was handsomely blond - and she called him Mit. As adults they exchanged letters once a week right up until she died.

Deirdre grew up into an extremely good-looking and commanding beanpole, nearly 6 ft tall; Cecil Beaton was among those who photographed her. She was married at the age of 19 to Ronald Balfour in Westminster Cathedral. He was considerably older than her, having been a midshipman at the Battle of Jutland. When the Second World War broke out he was employed at the Admiralty. After their flat in London was bombed they lived in the country; he was killed in a car accident on the way there when, after working all night, he fell asleep at the wheel.

Deirdre then went with her two daughters Susan and Annabel to New York, where she worked in the British Information Services. Returning to London at the end of the war, she met and married her second husband, David Wolfers, who had been in a German PoW camp. It was at this time that her brother started his publishing firm, Rupert Hart-Davis.

Whether at her home in Chelsea or her cottage in Sussex, Deirdre entertained friends, many from the artistic world such as Gerald Barry, Hugh Casson and Lawrence Gowing. Her third husband, Anthony Bland, was an academic lawyer, and when in the Sixties he became Professor of Law at Sussex University they moved to a house near Lewes. Some years later he took up a professorship in Jamaica and they separated.

Deirdre then moved into Lewes and started the Southover Gallery in her house, which she ran from 1973 to 1987, showing a number of artists including Duncan Grant, Quentin Bell, Julian Trevelyan, Mary Fedden, John Nash and Eric Rolfe. A feather in her cap was the occasional invitation from Glyndebourne Opera to mount its foyer summer art shows. The gallery made quite an impact in the community and continued for a time after Deirdre's marriage to a local widower, William Inman. He nursed her devotedly when the advent of Parkinson's disease led her to give up the gallery, and she bore her illness for a number of years with great fortitude after his death.