Natalie Bevan

Charismatic artist and collector
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The Independent Online

Natalie Ackenhausen, artist and collector: born London 22 May 1909; married 1929 Lance Sieveking (one daughter, and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved 1939), 1946 Bobby Bevan (died 1974), 1986 Sam Barclay (died 2000); died Great Horkesley, Essex 15 August 2007.

The painter and ceramicist Natalie Bevan was a muse to many of the leading British artists of the 20th century. In her late teens she modelled for Mark Gertler and travelled with Christopher Nevinson. During her first marriage, to the writer and radio and television producer Lance Sieveking, she was at the heart of the new world of broadcasting. When she married Robert Alexander Bevan, son of the Camden Town painter Robert Polhill Bevan, their East Anglian home was filled with paintings and became a social hub for artists including Cedric Morris, Lett Haines and John Nash.

She was born Natalie Ackenhausen in London in 1909 and grew up in Kensington, the eldest of three children born to Kurt (later known as Court) Ackenhausen, a German textile merchant, and Alice Denny, a children's book illustrator. The family adopted Denny as their surname during the First World War.

One of the most beautiful and charismatic women of her generation, Natalie was a popular figure in the artistic milieu of London in the late 1920s. She met Mark Gertler at a party held by Augustus John in 1927 and sat for two portraits by him, the most celebrated of which, Supper, exudes the sensuality of the 19-year-old model and the artist's passion for her.

Encouraged by her mother and friends, Natalie Denny began to draw and paint. She went on a working holiday to France with Christopher Nevinson and his wife in 1928. By that point Natalie was a regular at the Gargoyle Club in Soho and Nevinson, Harry Jonas and John Armstrong were in love with her. Indeed Gertler declared: "She is a nice girl, but too popular – there is a waiting list of six men, all of whom have proposed to her – but she cannot as yet make up her mind – meanwhile they all buzz around her like so many amorous bees – what a life!"

Among her suitors was the advertising copywriter Robert Alexander Bevan, known as Bobby. However, the victor was Lance Sieveking, whom Natalie married in 1929; they had two daughters and lived in Chelsea and Snape, Suffolk. Through Sieveking, Natalie developed her relationships with artists such as Paul Nash, who designed covers for Sieveking's books, and his brother John, a lifelong friend. As Director of Education at the fledgling BBC, Sieveking produced the first radio feature programme and the first television play ever to be broadcast, in 1926 and 1930 respectively.

During her marriage to Sieveking, Natalie's own art flourished. She concentrated on painting in oils and watercolours, creating lively images of the landscape around Snape, as well as of France and Mexico.

This first marriage was dissolved in 1939. During the Second World War she worked for the Ministry of Works, organising the collection of scrap metal throughout East Anglia. The post came with a petrol ration, allowing Natalie to indulge her enthusiasm for fast and skilled driving.

When Bobby Bevan returned from war service in Washington, he was delighted to discover that Natalie was single once more. They married in 1946 and lived in Knightsbridge and at Boxted House on the Essex/Suffolk border. Bevan had a distinguished career in advertising, becoming chairman of the agency S.H. Benson Ltd. He was behind slogans such as "Guinness is Good for You" and was the inspiration for Mr Ingleby in Dorothy L. Sayers' 1933 thriller Murder Must Advertise.

Bevan was the son of the painters Robert Polhill Bevan and Stanislawa de Karlowska, leading figures of the London art world of the early 20th century. He inherited and purchased works by his parents, as well as their Camden Town Group friends and other associates, including Walter Sickert, Paul Gauguin and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Their works hung on the walls of Boxted House, where they were joined by paintings and drawings by the Bevans' own artist friends, like John Armstrong and Frederick Gore, and others more closely associated with East Anglia, such as Cedric Morris, Lett Haines and John Nash.

Thanks to Natalie's skills as a hostess and Bobby's wine cellar, Boxted soon became a gathering place for artists, writers and gardeners; weekend parties might consist of Maggi Hambling, Francis Bacon, A.P. Herbert, Ronald Blythe, Beth Chatto and Robert Gathorne-Hardy. The Bevans did much to support the visual arts, not least through Bobby's chairmanship of the Minories Gallery in Colchester and his promotion of his father's work, of which he made a substantial gift to the Ashmolean in 1957.

Bobby and Natalie had a particularly well balanced relationship, shown by their early crewing of his ocean racing yacht, Phryna, and her support of his blossoming career during the 1950s. In the 1960s, Natalie resumed her own artistic activities, this time in the field of ceramics made and fired in a kiln in the conservatory-studio at Boxted, culminating in an exhibition at Anthony d'Offay's gallery in London in 1968.

However, perhaps Natalie Bevan's greatest creation was Boxted House itself. A Georgian square-built house of 1820, it contained a colourful profusion of pictures, objects, furniture and plants. Bobby's collection of 18th-century furniture and Natalie's collections of Staffordshire and Chelsea ceramics mingled with patterned carpets and textiles, books and arrangements of marble eggs, shells and stones collected during extensive travels. Every picture with which the walls were covered had a personal link to the couple.

The ensemble was brought alive by Natalie Bevan's charisma; she was incredibly glamorous, with golden hair swept up in elegant arrangements, often wearing knickerbockers with matching silk stockings, high-necked silk shirts and hats galore. She greeted visitors with an offer of champagne, or "shim-pain-pong", provided gourmet food and wine and brought out the best in people, exclaiming "Oh do try a bit" if she felt they were failing to provide interesting company.

She had a great talent for friendship and sense of fun, once pinning a dead goldfinch to a painting of birds by Cedric Morris and attaching night-lights in red glass holders to croquet hoops to light a midnight game. She nursed John Nash at Boxted during the final three weeks of his life and was the last love of Randolph Churchill's life.

Bobby died in 1974. In 1986 Natalie married Sam Barclay, the sailor and writer, with whom she and Bobby had been friends for years. Sam cared for Natalie selflessly as her memory declined. Following Sam's death in 2000, Boxted House was sold and Natalie moved to a nearby nursing home where she died.

An exhibition celebrating Natalie and Bobby Bevan and their life at Boxted House will be mounted at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art next spring.

Alice Strang

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