Marietta Pallis


Marietta Pallis, ecologist, painter and author, was born on 26 October 1882 in Bombay, daughter of Alexander Pallis (Greek scholar and poet) and his wife, Julia Ralli. The family left India in 1892 and settled in Liverpool in 1894. Pallis studied natural sciences at Liverpool University and also attended Newnham College, Cambridge.

At Liverpool, under the tutalege of F. J. Lewis, Marietta and fellow student Jean Shaw began a survey of the Norfolk broads. In April 1909, Lewis introduced their work to the Central Committee for the Survey and Study of British Vegetation (later the British Ecological Society).

In 1912-13 she travelled and studied in the Danube delta, where she collected a species of hairy-leaved ash which was named Fraxinus pallisae in honour of her.  She followed this with a journey through Greece and south-eastern Europe firstly to study the ecology and then later to nurse refugees from the Balkan wars.

In 1916 she was forbidden by her father to travel to the Amazon  and so began painting, taking lessons at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1924-5, she exhibited work and held a solo exhibition at the Bloomsbury Gallery in 1938.

From 1918, Marietta usually spent the winter in London and the summer in Norfolk. From 1921 she owned property in Chelsea; a passionate swimmer, she had a swimming bath installed (illegally) indoors. At Long Gores, Hickling, Norfolk, she rented a marsh cottage from 1918, purchased cottages and marshland in 1935, and constructed a large, thatched studio in 1937; here she recited the Orthodox liturgy beneath a corona hung from the ceiling.  In 1953, on the 500th anniversary of the fall of Byzantium, she had cut a three-quarter-acre symbolic bathing pool in the peat at Long Gores around islands shaped as a double-headed Byzantine eagle with papal and patriarchal crosses and crown, and the Greek initials MP. She corresponded with botanist and stratigrapher Dr Joyce Lambert and supported her theory that the Norfolk Broads developed as a result of medieval peat diggings.

The eagle pool became overgrown after her death but was cleared in the early 1980s.

Pallis died at St Helen’s Nursing Home, Bishopsgate, Norwich, on 30 August 1963 and was buried on 5 September, with Orthodox rites, alongside her partner Phyllis Clark on the island at Long Gores.

Find out more: The East Anglian Film Archive holds films made by Marietta Pallis which can be viewed on  Plans for Marietta’s artist’s shed at Long Gore Marsh can be viewed at the Norfolk Record Office – NRO, BR 35/2/81/21.  You can hear a BBC Radio Norfolk item about the life and work of Marietta at the Norfolk Sound Archive – NRO, AUD 1/1/822.

An image of NRO BR 35/2/81/21 Architect's drawing of Marietta Pallis' artist's shed at Long Gore Marsh.
NRO BR 35/2/81/21
Architect’s drawing of Marietta Pallis’ artist’s shed at Long Gore Marsh.

Created in 2014 by UEA Film, Media and Television students George Constantine, Jay Lawrence, Tom Watson and Dwayne Rapley.