Editor of Virginia Woolf’s diaries dies at age of 102

Renowned ... Anne Olivier Bell
Renowned ... Anne Olivier Bell

Anne Olivier Bell, a remarkable art historian and scholar, has died peacefully at her home in Firle at the age of 102.

Olivier, as most people knew her, had two honorary doctorates to her name (Sussex and York), and was renowned locally and nationally as the editor of five volumes of The Diaries of Virginia Woolf, Woolf being the aunt of her husband Quentin Bell.

She became uniquely expert in the history of the Bloomsbury Group, associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, the best known members of which included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.

A woman of great warmth, unquenchable optimism and robust humour who combined brisk practicality with meticulous scholarly rigour, Olivier was sceptical of the cult which posthumously grew up around Bloomsbury, but was equally determined that its thoughts, writings and activities should be properly recorded and respected.

In the post-war period she worked for the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Branch of the German Control Commission (the so-called ‘Monuments Men’, recently memorialised in a film starring George Clooney).

This distinguished group of archaeologists and art historians prevented further damage to historical monuments in Germany and returned to their owners works of art seized by the Nazis.

In December 2007, when she was honoured by the American government as one of the ‘Monuments Men’, she spoke with dry humility at a ceremony at the US Embassy.

Not long afterwards she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which turned out to be only a minor stroke. She was appointed MBE in 2014.

In 1980 Olivier helped found the Trust that runs Charleston, home of her mother-in-law, the Bloomsbury Group artist Vanessa Bell, and now a successful house museum.

Quentin died in 1996. Olivier is survived by a son, Julian, and two daughters, Virginia and Cressida, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be held at St Peter’s Church, Firle, at 1.30pm on Sunday, July 29.