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Artists Dora Carrington
Dora Carrington Photo

Dora Carrington

British Painter and Decorative Artist

Movement: Proto-Feminist Artists

Born: March 29, 1893 - Hereford, England

Died: March 11, 1932 - Newbury, England

Dora Carrington Timeline

Quotes

"I would like this year (since for the first time I seem to be without any relations to complicate me) to do more painting. But this is a resolution I have made for the last 10 years."
Dora Carrington
"I believe if one wasn't reserved, and hadn't a sense of what is possible one could be very fond of certainly two or three people at a time, to know human beings intimately, to feel their affection, to have their confidences is so absorbing that it's clearly absurd to think one only has the inclination for one variety."
Dora Carrington
"What a damned mess I make of my life and the thing I want most to do, I never seem to bring off. My work disappoints me terribly. I feel so good, so powerful before I start and then when it's finished, I realise each time, it is nothing but a failure."
Dora Carrington
"So few women have reached any high plane of creators. And the few that did become artists, I think you will admit, were never married, or had children."
Dora Carrington
"My new studio is going to be lovely. I shall when it's finished, completely change my character and become a very hardened recluse and paint pictures all day. Then all these spinster ravings will no longer blast my letters to you."
Dora Carrington
"About the more modern stuff I am not really at all sure: there is nothing that takes one's breath away like those masters."
Dora Carrington

"If only I had any money I should not be obliged to stick at home like this. And to earn money every day, and paint what one wants to, seems almost impossible."

Synopsis

Dora Carrington's impressive body of work is often overshadowed by the fiery dramas of her personal and romantic life. Indeed it can be difficult to ignore her many unconventional romances, her ambiguous sexual identity, and the dramatic suicide that ended her life when she was only thirty-eight years old. But looking beyond her sensational biography and carefully examining her work - which took the form of both painting and decorative arts - reveals an artist with a singular perspective. She was an artist who did not allow herself to be hemmed in by the trends of contemporary art. Instead, Carrington brought a unique blend of styles to her work, drawing from movements as disparate as Impressionism, Primitivism, and Surrealism. Most of her paintings are landscapes and portraits, and her sensitive rendering of her subjects reveals an artist with a keen eye who made an unrivalled contribution to European art of the early twentieth century.

Key Ideas

Working in a variety of styles, Carrington defied the artistic conventions of her contemporaries. Regardless of the style she worked in, a certain psychological depth was always there. From the penetrating intimacy of her portraits to the symbolism and mystery of her landscapes, emotional depth was a hallmark of her work.
Carrington was virtually unknown for her art during her own lifetime and seems to have received little encouragement from her peers to exhibit her work. It was not until the latter half of the twentieth century that her work received widespread recognition.
Although her work does not overtly address feminism or women's issues, both Carrington's lack of critical recognition and her interest in "feminine" subjects - landscapes of her home, decorative arts, portraits of personal acquaintances - subtly reveal the perspectives of women in early twentieth century Europe, especially the struggles of women artists working in that context.

Most Important Art

Dora Carrington Famous Art

Lytton Strachey (1916)

Lytton Strachey was the great love of Carrington's life. It should not be surprising, then, that her portrait of him reveals especial depth and intimacy. The portrait casts Strachey in a fond, flattering light, intently reading a book in bed. His long hands and bushy reddish-brown beard stand out as prominent features. 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.

The detail and emotional honesty of the painting speaks to the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, who were concerned with expressing genuine ideas in a heartfelt, personal manner, while paying careful attention to detail, using the rich color palettes of early Renaissance painting. Carrington draws from this tradition here, but the soft light and loose brushwork also suggest some influence of the Post-Impressionist movement. Post-Impressionist work had attracted the attention of some members of the Bloomsbury Group, including art critic Roger Fry and novelist Virginia Woolf. Carrington's portrait of Strachey was painted during the First World War, but its gentle, peaceful mood is worlds away from the fear and anxiety of war. It does, however, subtly suggest the stylistic shifts of the evolving world of modern art. Through its bringing together old and new styles, it anticipates - if only faintly - the dramatic shifts on the horizon for the modern art world.
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Dora Carrington Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Dora Carrington Biography

Dora Carrington was the fourth of five children - the second of two daughters. Her parents were Samuel Carrington, a railway engineer, and his wife, Charlotte Houghton. Her earliest days were spent in Hereford, a short distance east of Wales. Several years later the family moved to Rothsay Gardens in Bedford.

Carrington would later recall that she had "an awful childhood." Her mother was anxious, demanding, and extremely pious, devoting much of her time to religious causes.

It was away from her family, at Bedford High School, that Carrington received personal attention that encouraged her creativity. Her teachers quickly recognized her artistic talent. While still a young student, she twice won national prizes for figure drawing, at the tender ages of 12 and 13.

Early Training

Dora Carrington Biography

In 1910, Carrington enrolled in the Slade School of Art, part of University College, London. While at Slade, Carrington developed close friendships with two girls, Dorothy Brett and Barbara Hiles. So close were the trio that Dorothy and Barbara followed Carrington's lead when she cut her long hair to a daring, short bob. This was especially daring since the flapper trend of the 1920s was still several years away. The three soon became known as the "Slade Cropheads." It was around this time that Carrington stopped using her first name, and came to be known by many of those closest to her simply as 'Carrington' for the remainder of her life.

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Dora Carrington Biography Continues

During her years at Slade, Carrington was romantically pursued by two fellow students, Christopher Nevinson and Mark Gertler, but she never pursued a relationship with either suitor. Still, she did little to dissuade their affections, which resulted in a great deal of drama and heartache all around.

In spite of her daring fashion choices and tumultuous romances, Carrington's artistic development during this time was rather pedestrian. She was learning and working in very traditional styles.

Mature Period

Dora Carrington Photo

After completing her training at Slade, Carrington worked making paintings and woodcuts for the Omega Workshops and the Hogarth Press, both creative businesses established by members of London's bohemian Bloomsbury Group, whose most famous members included the novelists Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster, as well as the noted economist John Maynard Keynes. Though she was friendly with many members of the group and maintained a regular correspondence with Woolf, Carrington was more of a fringe player in Bloomsbury. While working at the Omega Workshops in 1916, she met the writer Lytton Strachey, who would be her main love over the course of her life. The two became fast friends and started living together in November 1917. Even though he was openly homosexual, Carrington had deep romantic feelings for him. Their enduring friendship had much in common with a marriage, but, for her part, Carrington also explored other romantic relationships with both men and women.

In 1918, Carrington's father died, leaving her a small inheritance that allowed her greater financial - and thus artistic - independence. Soon thereafter she met Ralph Partridge, a friend of her younger brother, who worked at the Hogarth Press with Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Marking the start of a strange love triangle, both Carrington and Strachey fell in love with Partridge, and he returned the affections of both. Partridge married Carrington in 1921, and Strachey paid for the wedding. The trio went on a honeymoon to Venice together. Strachey commented, "Everything is at sixes and sevens-ladies in love with buggers and buggers in love with womanizers, and the price of coal going up too. Where will it all end?" Back in England, Carrington divided her time between fulfilling the domestic chores of a wife and those of an artist. She painted on almost any medium she could find, including glass, signs, tile, and the walls of her friends' homes.

In 1924, Strachey purchased the lease to Ham Spray House near Hungerford in Wiltshire. Soon, the tight union of the trio began to dissolve. Partridge found a mistress in London, while Carrington began an affair with Partridge's friend Bernard Penrose. An unwanted pregnancy and abortion put a sad end to their relationship in 1928. Carrington never again had a romantic relationship with a man, turning her attention exclusively to women.

Late Period

Dora Carrington Portrait

In late 1931, Strachey became violently ill. Although doctors were unable to correctly diagnose the problem, it was later discovered that he had stomach cancer. Panicked by Strachey's sudden decline, Carrington attempted to asphyxiate herself in the garage, but Partridge rescued her. Strachey died shortly thereafter, in January 1932. After his death, Carrington wrote in her journal: "They say one should keep your standards & your values of life alive. But how can I when I only kept them for you. Everything was for you. I loved life just because you made it so perfect & now there is no one left to make jokes with or talk to... I see my paints, & think it is no use for Lytton will never see my pictures now, & I cry."

Two months later, Carrington shot herself. She was found before she succumbed to her injury, allowing her closest friends to say their goodbyes at her bedside in Ham Spray House. She was thirty-eight years old.


Legacy

Carrington was immortalized in print by D.H. Lawrence (Women in Love - 1920) and Aldous Huxley (Crome Yellow - 1921), but she never achieved fame as an artist during her lifetime. This can be attributed the fact that she rarely exhibited, or even signed, her work, along with the fact that she was not working in the most current styles. For many years, her art was associated with the Bloomsbury Group due to her connection with Strachey, as well as her many romantic entanglements within that group. Still, she was not interested in the formal experimentation of modernism to the same extent as some of the group's most famous members, including Roger Fry and Virginia Woolf. Indeed, she is now celebrated for her many portraits and landscapes that defy easy classification, lying somewhere on the boundaries of the Post-Impressionist, Pre-Raphaelite, and Surrealist movements. She is also celebrated for her attention to the decorative arts, as well as to "feminine" interests, from her focus on women in her landscapes to her interest in the "feminine realm" of the decorative arts.

In the 1970s, when David Garnett published a selection of her letters and selections from her diary, Carrington's painting gained a new academic and popular following. Since then, her work has been acquired by the Tate Britain, and was also the subject of a major Barbican retrospective in 1995. Her intimate portraits of those closest to her influenced an eclectic group of artists, particularly portrait painters in the UK and the US, including Alice Neel, Tracey Emin, and Tom Phillips.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Dora Carrington
Interactive chart with Dora Carrington's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Francisco GoyaFrancisco Goya
Diego VelazquezDiego Velazquez
Dante Gabriel RossettiDante Gabriel Rossetti

Friends

Clive BellClive Bell
Roger FryRoger Fry

Movements

The Pre-RaphaelitesThe Pre-Raphaelites
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
Dora Carrington
Dora Carrington
Years Worked: 1905 - 1932

Artists

Alice NeelAlice Neel
Tracey EminTracey Emin

Friends

Aldous HuxleyAldous Huxley
D. H. LawrenceD. H. Lawrence

Movements


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Useful Resources on Dora Carrington

Books

Websites

Articles

Videos

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Love in Bloomsbury (2014)

By Frances Partridge

The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts (2013)

By Nicholas Delbanco

Carrington: A Life (1995) Recomended resource

By Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina

Carrington: Letters and Extracts from Her Diaries (1970) Recomended resource

By Dora Carrington and David Garnett

More Interesting Books about Dora Carrington
Extracts from previously unseen Bloomsbury Group letters

By Laura Roberts
The Daily Telegraph (UK)
May 19, 2010

Bloomsbury's final secret

By Paul Levy
The Daily Telegraph (UK)
Mar. 14, 2005

A Love Story: Decades After Her Death, Carrington Finds An Audience Recomended resource

By Alan G. Artner
Chicago Tribune
Nov. 12, 1995

A Reputation Drowning in Trivia Recomended resource

By Louisa Buck
The Independent (UK)
Sep. 25, 1995

Carrington (1995)

Theatrical trailer

When Beakus Came to Stay (1929) Recomended resource

Three short 16mm films by Beakus Penrose (Carrington's lover), filmed in and around Ham Spray. The first and third feature Carrington.

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