Back in the 1980s, when I first discovered the wonders of Virginia Woolf’s writing, I went on to read just about everything by and about her I could; which naturally led on to me exploring the Bloomsbury group. At the time, the various members were not so high-profile as they are now, but Woolf’s diaries and letters revealed much, and one person who I found very intriguing was the artist Dora Carrington, usually known just as Carrington.
Carrington’s story was a fascinating and tragic one; a talented Slade scholar, she was part of a group of artists including Mark Gertler, Paul Nash and Christopher Nevinson. The painters, particularly Carrington and Gertler, were taken up by the Bloomsberries, and in 1916 she met the author Lytton Strachey, who was to be the love of her life. Despite his homosexuality, they set up house together and Carrington devoted her life to him, in many a menage a trois. Both partners in the relationship had affairs, but Carrington’s ultimate commitment was to Lytton and all else was subsumed by this.
Carrington continued to work all through her life; as well as portraits and landscapes, she would decorate anything she had from pottery to tiles and furniture. She also decorated a number of pub signs, and designed the library at Ham Spray, the house she shared with Strachey.
Lytton Strachey died of stomach cancer in 1932, and Carrington was inconsolable. She made one attempt at suicide, but was saved; the second, with a gun, was successful and she died two months after her beloved Lytton. For decades her legacy was neglected, and it wasn’t until the publication of a selection of letters and diary extracts in 1970 that she began to creep back into the public eye. When I first discovered her work, this book, together with one collecting some of her works put together by her brother Noel, were all that was available. Now, there have been films and biographies and fictionalised biographies and her work is being appreciated to the extent that she’s had a major retrospective and two works of hers are in the Tate.
However, I realised recently that I hadn’t read a little profile of Lytton and Carrington written by another friend, Diana Mitford, which was published in her collection of pen portraits of friends, “Loved Ones”. Picking up a copy, and reading Diana’s poignant memories of her friend, reminded me how wonderful Carrington’s work is, so I though I would share some here in the hope that I can inspire a few readers to go and seek out her work – I really think she was a stunning and underrated painter.