Pieces of a statue that Vita Sackville-West gave to her husband and lover Virginia Woolf will be displayed in a new exhibition.
The celebrated writer and gardener collected the fragments while visiting the ruins of the ancient palace of Persepolis in what is now Iran in 1927.
She gave one to her husband Harold Nicholson and the other to author Woolf, but when the lesbian lovers had a falling out, she dubbed it “that paperweight” because it came to represent the “ruin” of their relationship.
The fragments – believed to be from the stone beard of one of the Assyrian bull figures at Persepolis – are on display in an exhibition at Sackville-West’s former home in Kent.
A Persian Paradise at Sissinghurst Castle Garden will also feature photographs of Sackville-West’s travels with her husband and some other objects she collected along the way.
Pieces of a statue that Vita Sackville-West gave to her husband and lover Virginia Woolf will be displayed in a new exhibition. Above: Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Despite being married to Nicholson for almost 50 years until her death in 1962, Sackville-West had more than 50 female lovers
The celebrated gardener with her husband Harold Nicholson at their home in Kent in 1932
Sackville-West gave one volume to her husband Harold Nicholson and the other to author Woolf, but when the lesbian lovers fell out, she called it “that paperweight” because it represented the “ruin” of their relationship.
Despite being married to Nicholson for almost 50 years until her death in 1962, Sackville-West had more than 50 female lovers.
And her husband, who was a Labor MP and writer, also had a series of gay relationships.
Sackville-West met Woolf at a dinner party in London in 1922 and the pair had an intense affair from 1925 to 1928.
Woolf, best known for works such as Mrs Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own, was married to fellow author Leonard Woolf.
Sackville-West told her husband about Woolf’s appearance, writing in one letter: ‘At first you think she is plain, then a kind of spiritual beauty comes upon you, and you find a fascination in looking at her…’. . Darling, I’ve completely lost my heart.’
However, the relationship ended when Woolf could no longer cope with the fact that Sackville-West had several other lovers at the same time she was seeing her.
The pair became close friends, but that did not stop Woolf from committing suicide by wading into the River Ouse in 1941 with stones in her pockets.
Sackville-West wrote to her husband: ‘I think I might have saved her if I had been there.’
The new exhibition opens this Saturday at the former Sackville-West home, which is managed by the National Trust.
Experts are considering the possibility that Sackville-West cut one of the pieces collected from the Persepolis in half.
In addition to the two she gave to Nicholson and Woolf, she kept a third from another part of the palace on her desk.
In 1934, expressing her regret that Sackville-West no longer loved her, Woolf described the statue piece as “collecting dust.”
Sackville-West met Woolf at a dinner party in London in 1922 and the pair had an intense affair from 1925 to 1928. Above: Woolf in 1933
Meanwhile, Sackville-West said it was “that paperweight” behind which Woolf kept her letters and notes from rival romantic partners.
For the new exhibition, the two fragments have been reunited for the first time in almost a century.
Sackville-West also gave Woolf a blue “cog dish” that she bought at a bazaar in Tehran, the capital of what is now Iran.
The object is usually displayed at Woolf’s former home, Monk’s House, in East Sussex.
The researchers also discovered the history of a set of orange beads owned by Sackville-West.
They discovered that they had been given to her when she and Nicholson were invited to dine with the Il-Khan, the chief of the Bakhtiari tribe.
She later recalled the “series of chorales he played with, passing the beads between his fingers as he talked, as all Persians do; it lies on my table as I write.’
This image shows the ruins of the Palace of Persepolis, where the fragments came from
The photographs on display were taken during Sackville-West and Nicholson’s travels through Persia
Sackville-West is seen on the back of a donkey during her travels in Persia (now Iran)
Nicholson is seen lying next to the couple’s Ford car, which they used during their travels in Persia
The couple receives help while pushing their car after it apparently breaks down
Sackville-West and her husband are seen in Persia (now Iran) in the 1920s.
Nicholson mounts his donkey while Sackville-West sits nearby during the tour of Persia
Nicholson poses for a photo. The image is one of many shown in the new exhibition
The couple also encountered camels during their journey, as this image shows
Noted writer and traveler Gertrude Bell is seen in another image
The photographs on display were taken during Sackville-West and Nicholson’s travels through Persia.
One shows Nicholson wrapped in fur, while others see Sackville-West riding a donkey.
Another shows Sackville-West sitting in front of a breathtaking mountain backdrop.
Also shown is an image of the travelers pushing their Ford car after it broke down.
The son of a diplomat, Nicholson was born in Tehran in 1886.
He returned to work at the British Embassy in the 1920s and Sackville-West visited him twice.
She subsequently published two books describing her travels.
Sackville-West also gave Woolf a blue “cog dish” that she bought at a bazaar in Tehran, the capital of what is now Iran. Above: The bowl with another matching one
The researchers also discovered the history of a set of orange beads owned by Sackville-West. They discovered that they had been given to her when she and Nicholson were invited to dine with the Il-Khan, the chief of the Bakhtiari tribe.
Nicci Obholzer, senior house and collections officer at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, said: ‘It is moving to see some of the objects from her travels that Vita gave to Virginia and to Harold, reunited for the first time since they were given.
‘We hope visitors will enjoy learning more about this period in the lives of two of the most eloquent observers of the 20th century and the new discoveries we have made about them that reflect the Sissinghurst we see today see the day.’
Lindsay Allen, senior lecturer in ancient history at King’s College London, added: ‘We have made some exciting discoveries at Sissinghurst that show the impact of their Iranian travels on Harold and Vita.
‘The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to open a window on British-Iranian encounters in the 1920s.’
For the exhibition research, the National Trust collaborated with Kings College London, University College London, University of Cambridge and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
A Persian Paradise opens in Sissinghurst from Saturday 14 October to 24 March and is generously supported by the British Institute of Persian Studies and the Iran Society.
Visit for more information www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst