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Daphne Bruce: accomplished artist who studied under Henry Moore

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Artist Daphne Bruce
Artist Daphne Bruce

SCULPTOR and poet Daphne Bruce died just three months after celebrating her 100th birthday in Lymington.

An accomplished artist who studied under Henry Moore, Daphne was also a gifted oil painter and enjoyed wood whittling.

She was the widow of Erroll Bruce who, along with Adlard Coles, made history by racing across the Atlantic in the early 1950s in vessels then considered too small to survive the journey.

Son Peter was to follow in his father’s sailing shoes, four times a member of the British Admiral’s Cup team, once as manager. He said: “Daphne made an immense impact in her community and will be remembered by many as more than a bit of a saint.”

As to her art, he said:”She could paint anything, from pastural scenes of the New Forest to portraits and of course maritime scenes.

"I have never seen anyone do the sea in all its moods better than my mother – the sea was always very right and the vessels, almost always sailing yachts, usually pretty good too.”

By the time of her 100th birthday Daphne was mainly bed-bound at Colten Care’s Court Lodge nursing home in Lymington but able to enjoy celebrating her birthday with a family party and was delighted to receive a card from the Queen.

Her funeral is being held at the Test Valley Crematorium at Romsey on 10th May at 2.20pm, with a request for family flowers only.

Daphne spent much of her childhood in rural Dorset, and grew up with a love of trees and plants as well as all living creatures large and small.

Peter said “In her teens, Daphne became aware of the terrible hardships faced by the poor and on leaving school she joined a communist ‘cell’ but soon left, finding that discussions of revolution had higher priority than helping local families who were struggling.

“In adult life, Daphne was a kind and patient wife and mother who had to face enormous challenges during and after the Second World War.

“She was sympathetic to anyone, human or animal, and was quick tune into their feelings and give her abundant prescription of loving kindness.

“Her later interest in Buddhism gave her a language for what she had always been striving to achieve.

"She wrote about ‘the practice of love’ which she saw as giving compassionate attention while asking for nothing in return. She believed that to do this she needed to understand herself, observe and take note of her feelings, but let them flow past, laughing at her weaknesses.

“She used physical work, forgiveness and thankfulness to ‘neutralise’ negative emotions and generated positive feelings through laughter and giving and receiving loving kindness.”

Born in Weymouth on 11th January 1919, Daphne arrived a few minutes before her twin brother David.

She had three other brothers and a sister who sadly died as a toddler. Her childhood was spent in and around Weymouth and Aldershot where Daphne and her siblings were cared for by a series of nannies. She and David also spent some time living in Vevey in Switzerland with their mother’s sister.

When they returned, David was sent to prep school and Daphne was taught at home by a governess for three hours a day, which left her plenty of time for exploring the countryside and riding her pony.

At the age of 14, she was sent to Sandecotes boarding school in Parkstone where she remained until she was 16. She then went to live with a cousin in Ireland who bred and kept horses, before moving to Eton to become an assistant teacher at the kindergarten.

After having private lessons from the art teacher at Eton, she went on to study at Chelsea College of Art.

In 1939, Daphne became engaged to Erroll Bruce, who was in the navy, and with the war looming, the pair decided to marry as soon as possible. Their wedding was at Langton Herring Church in 1939, where Erroll’s father was the vicar.

In late 1939, Erroll was injured aboard a submarine and could not return to service at sea until 1945. In May 1940, Daphne’s first son Peregrine was born, followed by Peter in 1941 and Rosamund in 1943.

The family spent two years living on the Isle of Hoy in Orkney, where Daphne was very happy. Erroll was pronounced fit in 1945 and spent the next three years in the Far East aboard HMS Glasgow.

The family grew with the arrival of Errollyn in 1950, and they later moved to Malta to live in a 17th century fortress during Erroll’s posting as commander of a training centre.

They bought a house in Captain’s Row, Lymington in 1959, but later returned to live in Chelsea after Erroll was offered a job as editor of a yachting magazine.

Daphne and Erroll were delighted to become grandparents to Ben in 1963, followed by Tabitha a year later. Two years later in 1965 Daphne and Erroll had a fifth child of their own, Chloe. In total the couple had 14 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson Rico, who was born in 2001.

When Chloe reached school age Erroll resigned from his job in London and the family moved to Lymington full-time, where he set up a small publishing company.

The family later moved to Lower Pennington Lane, where Chloe kept a pony, and Daphne’s brother David came to live with them.

Over the years Daphne undertook many voluntary roles, helping at a children’s home in London and later at Lymington Infirmary and Oakhaven Hospice. She donated the proceeds from selling her paintings to Action Aid, which supports families in the Third World.

She was also a talented poet and gardener, and a lifelong animal lover.

In 2004, Erroll died and just two months later, her twin David passed away.

Daphne continued to enjoy painting well into her 80s and regularly exhibited at the Palette Club, Milford Art Group and The Royal Lymington Yacht Club annual exhibitions. She also attended Quaker meetings at Lymington Community Centre.

Peter Bruce and his sister Errollyn are currently collecting photographs of her paintings, many of which are owned by local people, with a view to putting them together in book form, with “a good number” amassed so far.

Anyone with one of Daphne’s paintings which can be photographed is asked to contact Peter Bruce on 01590 718912.

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