In the inter-war years, Kathleen and her sisters were prominent in London's Bohemian Bloomsbury set. Their circle of friends and acquaintances now included high-brows, Jews, poets, authoresses, painters, singers, ballet dancers, and an economist (probably John Maynard Keynes), and they frequented West End clubs such as the Gargoyle, the Harlequin and the Cave of the Golden Calf. Collectively, Kathleen and her sisters Mary and Lorna engaged in affairs with: writer Vita Sackville-West; composer Ferruccio Busoni; painter Bernard Meninsky; poet and novelist Laurie Lee; and the sculptor Jacob Epstein.
In 1921 Kathleen met the already famous sculptor at the Harlequin restaurant in London. Their adulterous affair incited the wrath of Epstein's wife Margaret; she shot and wounded Kathleen in the shoulder in 1923, and encouraged her husband into multiple affairs in the hope that he would lose interest in his mistress and "return home." One such affair produced a son in 1934 whose existence was hidden from Kathleen until five years after his birth. (The bastard child was raised by Margaret, who supported or at least tolerated her husband's brief affair with the boy's art student mother.) But despite Margaret's keenest efforts, Kathleen remained Epstein's lover and bore him three illegitimate children; a son in 1924, and two daughters in 1926 and 1929. Another child died suddenly as an infant, while Kathleen was playing the piano in the same room.
Presumably for the duration of her affair with Epstein, which spanned three decades, Kathleen lived with her sister Helen in a one-room London studio, until Margaret fractured her skull in a fall and died in 1949, which allowed her to move into Epstein's home in Hyde Park Gate. Kathleen's son lived with his mother and aunt Helen in the cramped studio, but due to the limited space and Kathleen's lack of money, her daughters were sent to live with relatives. Kathleen made occasional weekend visits to her daughters' separate residences in Herefordshire and Walsall, and the girls would sometimes go to London to stay with their mother, but Kathleen and her daughters did not spend much time together until the children were in their teens. In stark contrast, Kathleen devoted much of her time to her son's upbringing.
At some point, Kathleen allegedly had a lesbian affair with her younger brother Douglas's first wife. Meanwhile, Douglas, an ardent Communist and poet, was involved in an anguished love affair with the American heiress Peggy Guggenheim.
In 1954 the Queen Mother extended to Epstein an offer of a knighthood, which he accepted. In June of the next year Kathleen and the newly knighted Sir Epstein married at a private ceremony, and thus she became Lady Epstein and his sole beneficiary. As his widow she donated his works to the Israel Museum, and many can be seen in the Garman Ryan Collection at the New Art Gallery in Walsall.
Her first daughter, also named Kathleen Garman, called "Kitty" , became the first wife of the painter Lucian Freud. Their marriage was short-lived but produced two daughters, Annie and Annabel. Incestuously, Freud had had a previous affair with Lorna Garman, Kitty's aunt. Kitty is the subject of many of Freud's paintings, notably Girl with a white dog (1951-52), held at the Tate Gallery.
Kathleen's son, Theo, was a talented painter. He suffered mental illness, probably schizophrenia, and, after his condition worsened considerably, died in 1954 in "still unexplained circumstances." Her younger daughter, Esther, was so devastated by her brother's death that she committed suicide in November of the same year. Said a friend of Esther's: "In that family, there was a chair for suicide by the hearth, long before anyone occupied it."
She died in 1979, as did her sister Mary, in the arms of the Catholic Church.
Picture of the Week: Stubbers Green Pool, Shelfield, near Walsall (Circa 1939). Theodore Garman (1924-1954). New Walsall Art Gallery
Feb 12, 2000; The Garman Ryan Collection, given to Walsall in 1974 by Kathleen Garman, Lady Epstein, acquires a new home this week when the...