Dora Carrington

Self Portrait 1910

Dora de Houghton Carrington (29 March 1893 – 11 March 1932), known generally as Carrington, is described by art critic and former director of the Tate Sir John Rothenstein, as “the most neglected serious painter of her time.”

Born in Hereford she attended the all-girls’ Bedford High School before entering the Slade School of Art in 1910. Now calling herself just ‘Carrington’ her fellow students included  Dorothy Brett, Christopher R W. Nevinson, Mark Gertler and Paul Nash, all at one time or another in love with her, as was Nash’s younger brother, John Nash who hoped to marry her. After graduating from the Slade, although short of money, Carrington stayed in London, living in Soho with a studio in Chelsea.

Pastel portrait of Dora Carrington at the Slade by Elsie McNaught, c1911. The ‘Cropheads’….Carringron, Barbara Hiles and Dorothy Brett 1912.

Carrington produced a number of wood-cuts working as a book illustrator for the Hogarth Press run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. She also designed tiles, cut book plates, painted inn signs and designed furniture and decorations for houses where she spent her later years.

Defying the conventions of the time Carrington cut off her hair becoming one of the first ‘cropheads’ – a term coined by Virginia Woolf.  She was indeed troubled by her sexuality and is known to have had an affair with Henrietta Bingham and the writer Gerald Brenan.

Her association with biographer Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, started soon after she left the Slade in 1915. Strachey was the great love of Carrington’s life and her portrait of him reveals especial depth and intimacy. At the time Carrington painted this portrait, Strachey was working on Eminent Victorians (1918), a four-part biography of leading figures from the era, a work that would establish his enduring reputation as an important historical biographer.

Oil painting. Lytton Strachey 1916.

Early in their relationship they did share a bed but Strachey was a practising homosexual. They set up home at Tidmarsh Mill in Pangbourne and later at Ham Spray in Wiltshire.

The Mill at Tidmarsh. The quaint home shared by Carrington and Strachey from 1917 to 1924.

The couple were visited at Tidmarsh by Rex Partridge, a soldier who was promoted to the rank of major at twenty-three. Strachey relied on Partridge as a close friend and it was in 1922 that Carrington married Partridge to prevent him going abroad. Partridge found work at the Hogarth press for the Woolfs. The marriage was not a success but the ‘menage-trois’ continued. The move to Ham Spray was made in 1924, Carrington’s passionate but imperfect relationship with Strachey told on her. By 1928 Strachey was drawn more and more away by his homosexual nature while Partridge had formed a more lasting attachment in London. Carrington fell more and more into depression and a major blow came in 1931 when Strachey fell ill of an un-diagnosed cancer and died. Carrington tried to take her own life, but survived.

‘I see my paints and think it is no use to me, for Lytton will not see it now.’

Friends came to stay at Ham Spray to comfort her. Leonard and Virginia Woolf were some of the last to visit her. Virginia Woolf wrote ‘she seemed helpless, deserted like some small animal.’ The following day 11th March she took a gun, used for shooting rabbits, and shot herself in the chest, she was only thirty-eight.

Eggs on a Table, Tidmarsh Mill, circa 1924. Carrington’s friend, the writer E. M. Forster. Watendlath Farm, near Keswick in the Lake District, where she spent a summer holiday with her husband and their friends in 1921.

Carrington was not well known as a painter during her lifetime, as she rarely exhibited and did not sign her work. No exhibition of her work was held until 1970, thirty-eight years after her death.

Larreau Snowscape 1922. Fishing Boat in the Mediterranean 1929.

An excellent book which has helped with some aspects of this blog is Voyaging Out: British Women Artists from Suffrage to the Sixties Hardcover by Carolyn Trant. ISBN-10 : 0500021821

Graham Bennison 23rd August 2020.

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