Pollen Mural
Art Blog

Daphne and Arthur Pollen

The altar in Campion Hall’s antechapel is adorned by a quietly distinguished small mural painting; ‘English Landscape and Palestine Landscape with a Crucifixion Scene’. This is one of the few surviving works of Daphne Pollen (1904-1986). Daphne was born into a wealthy family, as the daughter of Cecil Baring, third Lord Revelstoke, who was the son of the Edward Baring who founded Baring’s Bank. In the year of her birth, her young parents bought Lambay Island, off the coast of Co. Dublin, and retained Edwin Lutyens to restore its castle. The architect worked on the project off and on from 1905 to 1912, and the result is one of his most successful domestic buildings. He also became a friend of the family, and godfather to Daphne’s brother. 

Daphne herself attended the Slade School of Art, and developed a particular gift as a muralist. Henry Tonks, the Slade Professor of Fine Art, who was interested in murals as an art form, was profoundly impressed by her. ‘I was bowled over. Such drawing, such large conception. Never have I had such a woman at the Slade, and few men….’  By 1923, aged only nineteen, she was working on an immensely ambitious work; a sixty-foot mural of ‘Christ Healing the Sick’ in the church of All Hallows, Poplar. This was a church established in 1880 in a desperately poor area of London’s docklands, the population of which had more than doubled in the 1870s. The building was rather bleak, and, encouraged by Tonks, the vicar invited her to decorate the north wall. Sadly, the church was badly damaged in 1942 during the Blitz, and was demolished in 1952, so this work has been lost.

However, also in 1923, she went with her family to India to see Lutyens’ work at New Delhi, and found a fellow Slade alumnus was also travelling on the boat: Arthur Pollen. They fell in love, and in 1926, she married him, and converted to Catholicism. Both the children of families which were intellectual as well as wealthy, their life as a couple was hospitable, devout, and highly sociable, and they were well connected with the interwar world of the arts. Apart from Daphne Pollen’s family connection with Lutyens, the Pollens’ circle of acquaintance included Hilaire Belloc (her portrait drawing of Belloc is in the National Portrait Gallery), David Jones, Sir John Rothenstein, and her uncle Maurice Baring, who was a great friend of Belloc and G.K. Chesterton; there were thus multiple points where the Pollens could have encountered Martin D’Arcy, who is almost certainly the originator of her project for Campion Hall. 

After her marriage, her practice as an artist declined as her domestic commitments increased, but such work as she did, like her husband’s, was focused on Christian themes, and Catholic church art in particular, though she was also a competent portraitist. Her other major work, which, unlike the All Hallows mural, still survives, is a group portrait, ‘The Forty English Martyrs’, painted in 1968. This was commissioned by the Society of Jesus at a time when Philip Caraman and John Walsh SJ were working towards the canonisation of the English martyrs: the picture was widely reproduced, and was taken to Rome for exhibition in 1970, at the time of the canonisation. The original is now at Stonor Park in Oxfordshire.

Her husband Arthur Pollen originally made his name as a portrait sculptor, but from the 1930s, became known principally as a Christian artist. Pollen’s most regular subjects throughout his career were the Crucifixion or Madonna and child images, for which Daphne sometimes modelled.  Among other work, he received multiple commissions relating to the canonization of St Thomas More and St John Fisher in 1935. The statues of More and Fisher which were in the chapel niches on either side of the high altar until this summer’s repainting are part of this work, and have been painted in subtle polychrome by Daphne Pollen. The Pollens’ belief in the importance of religious art was transmitted to the next generation.  Both their sons, the architect Francis Pollen (he designed Worth Abbey in Sussex) and the stained-glass artist Patrick Pollen, worked regularly on religious subjects throughout their respective careers.