Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Collection Focus

Dora Carrington (1893-1932)
In the past few years the gallery has been able to acquire a number of fine works by the artist Dora Carrington. Carrington grew up in Bedford, attending Bedford High School, before going to the Slade and becoming part of one of the most interesting art scenes in this country in the 20th century. The Cecil Higgins Collection, therefore, is an ideal place for her work to be, alongside many of her contempories.
This week we have unveiled our latest acquisiton, Carrington's 1911 study of Bedford Market, and it seemed the ideal moment to reflect on the collection that has grown since 2004. KP
Dora Carrington (1893-1932) was one of a group of young artists that included Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler and CRW Nevinson, who attended the Slade at the beginning of the 20th century. Referred to by their tutor as the Slade’s ‘last crisis of brilliance’, they emerged at a time of great change in the British art world, caused in part by Roger Fry’s Post Impressionism exhibition in 1910. Although Carrington admired the work of Cezanne and Matisse, unlike the majority of her contemporaries, she represented figures and landscapes as she saw them, refusing to respond to changing artistic movements. This decision led John Rothenstein to describe her as ‘the most neglected serious painter of her time’.

Carrington’s work is inherently autobiographical; she painted places where she lived and people she loved. The subject of her most famous portrait is the author Lytton Strachey, with whom she lived from 1917 until his death in 1932, followed two months later by her own suicide. Much is known about Carrington’s life as she was a prolific letter writer, corresponding with the artistic and literary greats of the time, including Gerald Brenan, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, Rosamund Lehmann and fellow Bloomsbury group member Virginia Woolf. Carrington is also depicted in fiction; she is Mary Bracegirdle in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Crome Yellow’ and Minette Darrington in D H Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’. VP

Bedford Market, 1911.
Pencil, ink, and watercolour on paper 43.1 x 67.5cm
Accession No.: P.1005
Bedford Market is a rare depiction of Carrington’s early life in Bedford. Although she made many drawings of her father and brothers, there is no known other work which takes as its subject the town of Bedford. The Carrington family moved to Bedford in 1903 when Dora was ten. At that time, a large part of the town’s population was made up of the families of retired soldiers or colonial administrators. Like many of these families, the Carrington’s chose Bedford because of the town’s good but inexpensive schools, in which Dora and her four siblings were educated, Dora attending Bedford High School for Girls until she entered the Slade School of Art in 1910.

Carrington drew Bedford Market on a rare trip home from the Slade a year after entering the school. She found the contrast between the freedoms of London and the Edwardian society of the small market town of Bedford unbearable. Her brother Noel wrote that, though Bedford was only fifty miles from London by train, it ‘might have been almost a thousand for all the cultural influence then exercised on it by the metropolis’.

In her first year at the Slade, the teaching emphasis would have been on draughtsmanship and Carrington produced two distinct styles of drawings; an academic one in which form and modelling were predominant, as seen in her life drawings, and the more linear style seen in Bedford Market and other works such as Cockney Picnic (c.1911). Both of these styles show her scrupulous attention for detail and eye for arrangement.

The view point of Bedford Market is from Bedford High Street looking onto St Paul’s Square, where the market is still held today. The names of Bedford traders on the market stalls and shops can be clearly seen, as can the gravestones from the Church in the far left corner. VP
PROVENANCE: Anthony d'Offay; Private Collection; Bonhams, from whom purchased by Gallery in 2010
EXHIBITIONS: London, Upper Grosvenor Galleries, Carrington, A Retrospective Exhibition, 6 November - 28 November 1970, London; Anthony d'Offay, Carrington and her Friends, 25 June - 26 July, 1980; London, The Barbican Art Galley, Carrington - The Exhibition, 21 September - 10 December 1995.

REFERENCES: Noel Carrington, Carrington, Paintings, Drawings and Decorations, Thames and Hudson, 1980, p.16 (ill. b&w); Gretchen Gerzina, Carrington, A Life of Dora Carrington 1893-1932, Pimlico, 1995, p19; Jane Hill, The Art of Dora Carrington, The Herbert Press, London, 1994 p.14 (ill. b&w)

Purchased with the assistance of The National Art Collections Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund

Spanish Boy, c.1924.
Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 50.8cm.

Accession No.: P.993

Spanish Boy was probably painted in Yegen, Spain at the home of Gerald Brenan, with whom Carrington was having an affair. Brenan regularly held musical evenings and it was at one such night that Carrington wrote of witnessing a beautiful young man singing: ‘Then a young man with a face so beautiful that it is imprinted on my memory so that I could draw every feature…His hat was tilted back from his face and showed his rather bulging forehead with a shining highlight on it. He had a most amazing mouth a short upper lip with a slight curl... Suddenly the profile altered, the eyes glittered wildly the mouth opened, the forehead puckered. A strange wailing song came out and his whole body shook and the face became contorted with sadness and passion. It was a most moving song.’ VP

PROVENANCE: Purchased from the artists family Purchased with the assistance of The National Art Collections Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund.
Mrs Box, 1919.
Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 76.2cm.
Accession No.: P.936
Carrington first met Mrs Box whilst on holiday with Lytton in Cornwall in September 1917, painting her as a traditional farmer’s wife in an old-fashioned bonnet. VP
PROVENANCE: Purchased from the artists family.
Purchased with the assistance of The Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund
Teddy Carrington, c.1915.
Pencil on brown paper 44.6 x 30.3cm
Accession No.: P.1003
Carrington idolised her brother Edward, known as Teddy and his death at the Somme in 1916 greatly affected her. In 1923 she described him in a letter to Gerald Brenan as having ‘had very dark olive skin, almost black eyes and pitch black hair - as a little girl I always thought there was a mysterious secret attached to him and that he wasn’t really my Father’s son because we were all fair’. VP

PROVENANCE: Purchased from the artists family

Noel Carrington, c.1912.
Pencil on paper 31.5 x 39.9cm
Accession No.: P.1002

This work, produced when she was at the Slade, is an excellent example of the academic style of drawing that she had developed there. The sitter is her brother Noel whom she often persuaded to sit for her on visits home to Bedford. VP

Fragment of a letter to Margaret Burr, about 1910

Accesion No.: AM15

This fragment is all that remains of a letter to a friend of Carrington's named Margaret Burr, referred to here as Marmie, who had attended Bedford High School at the same time as Carrington. The illustration of a bee in the top left corner makes reference to Margaret’s nickname.

Carrington was an avid letter writer throughout her life, but very few letters survive from her time at the Slade. This letter was written whilst she was staying at Byng Place, London a respectable hostel for students and makes reference to a visit from her sister Lottie visiting her for tea. VP

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