Ella Grainger’s Diaries

Grainger Museum

The Grainger Museum has recently accepted the donation of a collection of diaries owned by Ella Grainger, the Swedish artist, poet, and musician, and wife of Australian composer and pianist Percy Grainger. Born in 1889 in Stockholm, Ella Viola Ström moved to London as a teenager, studying painting at the Slade School of Art, then at Althin’s School of Painting in Stockholm, and at André Lhote’s studio in Paris. In 1926 she met Percy Grainger aboard a ship bound for Australia. The couple were married two years later in an extravagant ceremony at the Hollywood Bowl during a concert of Grainger’s compositions and in front of an audience of over 15,000 people.

While Ella’s diaries are small in size—each measuring only 7 to 10cm in length—they provide fascinating but brief glimpses into day-to-day activities, from the year before she met Percy, to the final year of his life. Although some entries are only a few words long, in both English and Swedish, they detail significant events, travel, addresses, quotes and frequent entries regarding who she dined with and where. Other personal information about herself and those she met, including many significant artists, musicians and writers of the day are accompanied by stamps, newspaper clippings and small photographs, revealing her daily experience over a period of thirty-five years. The final diary from 1960 has the words ‘A BAD YEAR’ handwritten in red pencil on title page, noting the ongoing illness of Percy and her daughter Elsie.

The donation arrived from estate of Bill Fitzwater, an Australian filmmaker known for his innovative work with the ABC and BBC. After making a documentary about Grainger in the mid-1960s, Fitzwater had been given the diaries by Ella herself on the understanding that they would eventually find their way to the Grainger Museum. Fitzwater used the diaries in his research for a future, and sadly unrealised, feature film titled Rose-Ella-Percy, which tells the story of Grainger’s complex relationships with both Ella, and his mother Rose.

The diaries are currently undergoing conservation treatments and cataloguing and will be available for researchers to view later in the year.

We thank Virginia Fitzwater for this generous donation.