Nina was born Emmeline Mary Elizabeth Welby (later Welby-Gregory) in 1867. Her father was a Lincolnshire landowner and MP, and the family lived at Denton near Grantham. They would have known the Brownlow family well and mixed in similar social circles.
Nina came from a family of extraordinary women, creative, intelligent and strident. Though she possessed the formidable talents of both her mother and grandmother, instead of their expansive self-expression, Nina favoured reserve. She was a scholar, editor and translator, but above all she excelled as a sculptor.
Unlike many women of her time and status, Nina appears to have received formal training at an art school in Paris, the Academie Julian. It’s unclear what form this training took and whether or not it included sculpture, but it was to become her favoured and most skilful art form.
Nina’s self-portrait sketch and marble bust capture her fragility beautifully, accentuating her delicacy and quiet reserve.
" She had a kind of moonlight charm as she smiled, slightly like the moon coming out from behind a cloud."
Harry Cust was a distant relative of Nina. At over six feet tall, with fair hair and an elegant moustache, Henry John Cockayne Cust (1861-1917) was extremely handsome, intelligent and charismatic. Eton and Cambridge educated, Harry entered Parliament in 1890 as Conservative MP for Stamford. He was also a popular and influential member of the Souls, an intellectual and aristocratic group which included some of the most wealthy and powerful men and women of the day.
Following numerous affairs and the birth of an illegitimate daughter, Harry later seduced Nina while engaged to Pamela Wyndham, a prominent member of the Souls. Under pressure from friend and fellow politician Arthur Balfour and his cousin Adelbert the 3rd Earl Brownlow, Harry was forced to marry Nina on 11 October 1893, when it was thought she was pregnant by him.
Adelbert Wellington Brownlow Cust (1844-1921), the 3rd Earl Brownlow was the second son of Marian Alford and a cousin of Harry. Both Adelbert and his wife Adelaide appear to have been sympathetic and supportive towards Nina in light of her relationship with Harry and perhaps this impressive sculpture was Nina’s way of acknowledging her respect and gratitude.
Nina’s skill is evidenced in this delicate carving of Lady Brownlow’s hand. Katherine Harriet Kinloch, Lady Brownlow, also known as Kitty, was the first wife of Peregrine Francis Adelbert Cust, 6th Baron Brownlow. The two dates on the base of the sculpture would suggest that Nina carved the piece to celebrate Kitty’s marriage to Peregrine, ending with her death in 1952. A beauty like Nina, Kitty loved to entertain and Belton would have been a popular destination for high society parties throughout the twenties and thirties.
Nina remained loyal to Harry throughout their marriage, supporting him as his health declined. She was at his side when he died at the age of 55. Nina spent the following 10 years sculpting a life sized marble effigy for Harry’s tomb which lies in Belton’s church. Nina’s ashes were interned in the tomb with Harry when she died 38 years later.