Joy Finzi was an artist and poet, born Joyce Black in 1907. She initially studied music, in particular the violin, but then turned to sculpture and pottery at the Central School of Art and Design in London. Her skill at drawing pencil portraits, for which she later became best known, was entirely self-taught.
She married the composer Gerald Finzi in 1933 – they had met earlier that year after he rented a cottage in Sussex
from her family and had to call on her when a faulty flue caused the cottage to fill with smoke. There were only three others present at their registry office wedding in Dorking, but two of them were the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and his wife Adeline. Also in the same year, they bought their Aldbourne house, Beech Knoll, at auction for £1800, where they brought up their two song Christopher (1934 – ) and Nigel (1936 – 2010). In 1939, the Finzis moved from Aldbourne to Church Farm in Ashmansworth, about 10 miles south-east of Hungerford.
While living in Aldbourne, Joy produced her first pencil portrait, of the 3-year-old Christopher asleep. Encouraged by Gerald, she eventually produced around eighty portraits, including many of contemporary musicians and writers, often
drawn during visits to the Finzis’ home. Joy’s portraits include Gerald himself, conductor Sir Adrian Boult, the poet Edmund Blunden and the composers Sir Arthur Bliss and Vaughan Williams – the last of these is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. A complete list of her drawings and sculptures can be found on joyfinzi.com.
In 1940, Joy was instrumental in founding the Newbury String Players, a vehicle for her husband’s musical interests as well as his own music. She played violin in the orchestra and also, in effect, became its administrator. After Gerald’s premature death in 36, she continued to promote his life and work. She founded the Finzi Trust in 1969, and the Finzi Friends in 1982. Both organisations are still operating. She also remained active in musical and artistic circles locally. For example, the existence of the remarkable engraved windows by Laurence Whistler in the churches at Ashmansworth – a tribute to 50 English composers – and in Eastbury near Lambourn – a memorial to the poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) – are both due to her. Joy had become good friends with Edward Thomas’s widow Helen, who lived in Eastbury, after they had met in Boots in Newbury in the early 1950s!
Joy published two volumes of poetry in her later years, A Point of Departure (1967) and Twelve Months of a Year (1981 ); and a collection of 52 of her portrait drawings was published in a limited edition of 300 copies under the title In that Place in 1987. At the time of writing, a copy is available online for £150!
She died in 1991, aged 84.