Mrs. Janet Stone

The Times 7th February 1998

Janet Stone, photographer, died on January 30 aged 85. She was born on December 1, 1912.

When Janet Stone was a new-born baby, her eccentric mother put her in a basket with a lid on it and then lost her on a train, somewhere between Cromer and Davos. It was the beginning of an unusual life.

Nothing about her background would lead one to imagine that artistic talents would reveal themselves. She was descended from Elizabeth Fry and the anti-salve campaigner Thomas Fowell Buxton, and most of her family were clergymen.

Her father, Edward Woods, was Bishop of Lichfield; an uncle was Bishop of Winchester. Her three brothers were Frank, Archbishop of Melbourne, Primate of Australia; Robin, Bishop of Worcester; and Samuel, Archdeacon of Christchurch, New Zealand. They were all brilliant public speakers and dynamic organisers.

These qualities are shared by their sister, Gabrielle Pike, who became chairman of the Women’s Institute. They were certainly not absent in Janet, but she also possessed other talents: these included an effortlessly beautiful high soprano voice and an acute and fascinated eye for all the she looked at.

She went to the Royal College of Music and, just as her career began to take off, met and married the artist and engraver, Reynolds Stone. She abandoned her career without hesitation.

They moved to an idyllic part of Dorset which was to prove an endless source of inspiration for Reynolds. There she transformed the house (she never ceased to enjoy the exhilaration of moving furniture about) with William Morris wallpaper and Victorian furniture, long before such things became popular.

It became, one could say, the centre of her life’s work: the entertaining of a constant stream of extraordinary and diverse friends, who often came to stay bringing their work with them. Iris Murdoch and John Bayley, L.P. Hartley, the Day Lewis family, Sidney Nolan, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, to mention only a few.

They, in turn, provided the subjects for a talent that had materialised almost by mistake: her portrait photography. What started off as an impromptu record of her family life became a new career. Underneath her beautiful and stylish exterior lurked an acute shyness and lack of confidence which had hindered her singing career but did not obstruct her photography. Her eye for composition and her ability to seize the moment were instinctive and self-taught.

It was typical of her speedy approach to life that she had no interest in arranging artificial lighting for her portraits, or in printing her own photographs. She preferred instead to use the Lightning Photo Company, in Torquay, simply because they guaranteed prints by return of post.

When Reynolds died in 1979, her heart went out of entertaining and taking photographs. But she was delighted when Chatto and Windus published a book of her work, Thinking Faces, and the National Portrait Gallery acquired a large selection of her portraits.

She found another house with an astonishing view across the Avon to the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. From there, in her strong italic hand, she continued to write the inimitable and unusually spelt and expressed letters (full of phrases like “barking up the wrong shin”), which had charmed her friends throughout her life.

She leaves two sons and two daughters, all artistic and of all of whom she was immensely proud.