The collector and patron of the arts was the daughter of Thomas Sutherland, a cultured man who loved the theatre, travel, and literature-traits inherited by his daughter. She was educated at boarding-school in Barnet and afterwards at the Convent of the Assumption in Paris, whose frugality and order she loved. Though she appeared small and rather delicate, even at an early age she had a strong will and a desire for perfection.

Her first marriage to Richard Denman - the best man was John Buchan (q.v.) was a failure and after it she surrounded herself with friends who included the Quaker Hodgkin family, and in particular Ellen and her husband, the archaeologist R. C. Bosanquet (q.v.) She rented a summer residence at Bamburgh Castle to be near the Hodgkins and Bosanquets. She also visited Paris, where she frequented exhibitions and began to buy pictures, including two by Courbet, several Persian miniatures, and works by Seurat and André Derain. In 1925 she was introduced to Ben and Winifred Nicholson by her friend the painter Constance Lane, and began to buy works by them and by Paul Nash and Duncan Grant

In 1929 Sutherland leased Rock Hall, near Alnwick, though she made frequent visits to London. Rock Hall was beautifully decorated and hung with a growing collection of art works. Her patronage of artists, both in purchasing works and in offering other forms of support, was a major contribution to contemporary art in the 1930s. She was asked by the Ashington Painters group (q.v) to be their patron, and at their exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery in August 1959, she turned up from the Lake District at the age of 79.

Many guests stayed at Rock Hall, including the poet Elisabeth Jennings and the painter David Jones, whom Sutherland met in 1929 through a fellow art lover, Jim Ede. Jones had almost equal eminence as a poet, having published his WW1 epic In Parenthesis in 1937. This was broadcast on Radio 3 in November 2004. His The Anathemata came out in 1952. Sutherland was a demanding hostess whose personal regime impressed Winifred Nicholson: "She had a cold bath every morning, walked every day... about twenty miles, lived on nothing but apples, grapes, pineapple and a little lettuce". Politics and religion also played an important part in Sutherland's life: she rejoined the Church of England, though she later turned to Catholicism.

After the lease on Rock Hall ended Sutherland moved in 1939 to Cockley Moor, a Lakeland farmhouse above Ullswater. There, as in Northumberland, she involved herself in local issues and got to know local musicians and artists. Visitors included Michael Roberts (q.v.) Winifred and Ben Nicholson and Kathleen Raine (q.v.). She is buried at Rock.