Book Review: The Art of Dora Carrington by Jane Hill

by KathleenDuffy

Dora Carrington is now recognised as a significant British painter. This excellent book examines Carrington's life and features many examples of her varied output.

First published in 1994, Jane Hill’s book came on the market at a time when Dora Carrington’s work was not widely recognised. 'The Art of Dora Carrington' has done much to bring the life and work of Carrington to the attention of art-lovers, particularly those keen to shine a light on often-neglected women artists.

The book is a treat for anyone interested in this complex, enigmatic and talented woman. Carrington was a shy and modest artist, scarcely interested in promoting her work. Her death by suicide meant that for many years her art was almost forgotten, overshadowed by her contemporaries.

The Art of Dora Carrington by Jane Hill
The Art of Dora Carrington by Jane Hill

Dora Carrington’s art reflected her life, her friends and her surroundings and Jane Hill’s book is profusely illustrated with her work. Alongside descriptions of the various stages of her complex emotional life and relationships, as well as her artistic development, are artworks and photographs that help to illuminate these incidents for the reader.

Dora Carrington with Lytton Strachey
Dora Carrington with Lytton Strachey

Each page of the book carries examples  of Dora's work – sketches, paintings, woodcuts, glass paintings, photographs, delightful cartoons, some strange, dark illustrations, painted furniture and e'Spread Eagle' Pub Sign by Dora Carringtonven pub signs. Many of the paintings presented in The Art of Dora Carrington are full colour plates.

Self-portrait sketch by Dora Carrington

Dora Carrington, The Slade and Lytton Strachey

Dora Carrington (or ‘Carrington’ as she preferred to be known) was born in Hereford in 1893, but grew up in Bedford.

In 1910 she won a scholarship to the Slade School of Art. She immediately chopped off her long hair to create a thick bob and began to cultivate a Bohemian life-style. Amongst her friends were Augustus John, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Mark Gertler and the members of the Bloomsbury Group.

 

Farm by Dora Carrington
Farm by Dora Carrington

Jane Hill has emphasised that whilst at the Slade, Carrington met strong, intelligent women who became her soul mates during her brief life. She was introduced to new cultural experiences including the modern art of France and books by Tolstoy and Romain Rolland.

Although not considered conventionally beautiful, Dora Carrington possessed something beyond beauty that proved irresistible to both sexes.

Ultimately however, despite a long-term relationship with the Jewish artist, Mark Gertler and various other emotional ties, including marriage, the great love of Carrington’s life was the writer, Lytton Strachey.

The bond between Lytton and Carrington was deep, despite their various affairs, and it is not known whether their life together involved anything sexual, as Strachey was a homosexual.

Lytton Strachy contracted stomach cancer and in 1932 he died. On his deathbed he said he regretted not having married Carrington.

Lytton Strachey by Dora Carrington
Lytton Strachey by Dora Carrington

Up to this point Carrington's life, although filled with bouts of loneliness and depression, had involved not only her art, but the creation of a home and decorating it beautifully for herself and Lytton.

Such activities had contributed to a rich interior life. Now, feeling that there was no reason to go on with her art or her life, her second attempt at suicide in 1932 was successful. She died of gunshot wounds shortly before her thirty-ninth birthday.

Tulips in a Staffordshire Jug by Dora Carrington
Tulips in a Staffordshire Jug by Dora Carrington

The Mill at Tidmarsh by Dora CarringtonCarrington’s life with Lytton was ultimately tragic, yet this is not only what she should be remembered for. In this book Carrington’s work is the ultimate testament to the brief life of an extremely gifted artist.

Dora Carrington's life is also the subject of an excellent film, Carrington, starring Emma Thompson and Jonathan Price which has also raised Carrington’s profile.

 Jane Hill’s book is not only beautifully illustrated, but it is sensitively written. Hill has real empathy with her subject and has managed to allow the art of Dora Carrington to shine through and become the true measure of this extraordinary artist.

 

Source:

The Art of Dora Carrington by Jane Hill (The Herbert Press Ltd, 1994) ISBN:1-871569-60-5

 

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Updated: 03/23/2014, KathleenDuffy
 
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KathleenDuffy on 03/24/2014

Hello Mira,  yes, I agree with you about her obsession with Lytton.  I got the impression from the film that she felt like an outsider, and despite all her admirers, she was lonely.  As a homosexual Lytton was marginalised outside of the hothouse Bloomsbury atmosphere. Maybe that is why she was so drawn to him.  It's hard to speculate isn't it... A fine artist and a great loss.

Mira on 03/23/2014

I like your page, Kathleen. I also enjoyed seeing some of Dora Carrington's work during the final credits of the movie. She was really talented but I think she had a fixation (rather than love) with Lytton. I may be wrong, as I don't know much about her, but that was the impression I got watching the movie and thinking a bit about it. But it could have been love. Maybe he was more tender to her than we're shown in the movie. She seemed to want just to be around him, just to see him around. And maybe he enjoyed that kind of attention. We'll never know what he really felt for her. I look forward to reading his book Eminent Victorians though!

KathleenDuffy on 04/21/2013

Yes, so true Catana. Thanks for your posts. I enjoyed our chat.
Am off now to watch a documentary about life in rock pools - not far removed from the Bloomsbury Group I suspect!
Nite.

Guest on 04/21/2013

Good analysis. Claustrophobic, but also exciting. At least for people who can adapt to change and be inspired by it.

KathleenDuffy on 04/21/2013

Yes, could be. Nature or nurture? I think it's a fine balance between the times they lived in, the fact that many of them had money so could explore new ideas, and they were also grappling with vast social changes taking place in English society - the war, the breakdown of the class system, the waning of the aristocracy, the rise of a militant working class. At the same time they were split between being terrible snobs, seeing their world falling apart, and wanting to live freely - only their class , though. A hard time for them . Their eccentricities and mental fragility reflected these complex changes I imagine. That's part of their value, their social and mental struggles I think. Their world seems very claustrophobic.

Guest on 04/21/2013

I think it was more the other way around, Kathleen. People who are sort of out there on the mental edge (not necessarily certifiable) are more likely to push the boundaries and do things that are considered outrageous. With Woolf, of course, it was probably both.

KathleenDuffy on 04/21/2013

Catana, I agree about the movie. I thought it was really well done. I love the bit where she is Just about to cut his beard off to get her revenge whilst he is asleep in bed, and she just looks at him and falls in love with him. Really moving film. You are right about the Bloomsbury set. I don't think I would have liked some of them very much (or them me!) - having said that, 'To The Lighthouse' is a beautiful book which I really love, although Virginia would have scared me to death... They all fascinate me and were trying to do new things in an England that was stuffy and narrow. No wonder they had breakdowns, etc.

Guest on 04/21/2013

I'd never heard of Carrington until I saw the movie, many years ago. She was a fascinating person. And from the various portraits and photos, the casting of the movie was perfect. The Bloomsbury group, as a whole were incredibly talented, and mostly not terribly happy people. I recommend the movie, but not to anyone who can't deal with a sad ending.

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