Dora Carrington (1893 – 1932)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

As one of the more obscure affiliates of the Bloomsbury Group (see here for a recent post on fellow Bloomsbury artist/Virginia Woolf sibling, Vanessa Bell), Dora Carrington’s relaxed, expansive paintings have mostly eluded the critical gaze so fixed on other members of the collective. Perhaps, in part, this is due to her untimely death at the age of 38 – a result of a self-inflicted gunshot soon after the death of Carrington’s close friend Lytton Strachey, with whom she shared an intense, complex companionship. Regardless of the size of the artist’s output however, an idyllic sense of beauty remains. One skilfully attuned to notions of perspective and proportion.

‘Farm at Watendlath’ – 1921art-everywhere-top-ten-2

Throughout this momentous scene we are continually reminded of our own size in relation to everything else within the picture. So in contrast to the mother & daughter at the centre, we have the gigantic trees towering above them. Yet above the trees too, enormous rolling hills collect. Hills which themselves have a duo of tiny trees nestled in their folds, almost suggesting an equanimity and relative distance between the two couples.

Carrington employs curves here especially well, utilising them regularly to create a continual sense of building from smaller to larger: from the fork in the road at the bottom, to the twisted washing lines behind the farmhouse, to the brick walls gathering up the smaller ford, all the way to stooping drops of the bluffs so prominent at the back.

Regardless of this subtle patterning however, the detail in the painting technique in of itself is something to get lost in. The trees for example are tremendously well realised, with the branches on the left a delicate believable weave, whilst the pitch mass at the right is a revelation,  its small pockets of light dappling and breaking through the threshing blackness. The grass too is equally impressive, with Carrington using adroit washes to evoke grass both lush and waning.

With its heightened perspective looking both down on the viewers and up at the landscape, ‘Farm at Watendlath’ allows oddly, at least for me, an opportunity to imagine what it would be like at the top of the hill staring down at the gazers. The people at the bottom in a sense becoming just like us, staring at something quite unbelievable, yet so familiar and normal from afar.

‘Fairground at Henley Regatta’ – 1921fairground at henley regatta 1921oct13

A slightly askew work that holds value to me more for its skill than its spirit, ‘Fairground at Henley Regatta’ works because of its juxtaposition. With its stately sense of play enshrined within a slight wilderness which seems to encroach on the occasion from all angles.

The side growth for example, with its limbed exotic branches, delicately connects with the faux painted top of the carousel. I love the way in which the fiction of the ride blends with the facts of its environment. As the closer the top leaves of the ride get to the edge of the canvas, the more real they become. Though never pertaining to any reality, the slightly faded way throughout that Carrington suggests detail is to be lauded.

At times it almost feels like a Lowry painting, with the various busied figures all detailed in and amongst themselves.  A crowd gathers for example between two high sheets just before the swings, as to what or why, we’ll never know, but through their subtle placement and inward lean, we believe it. And behind all the commotion is arguably the most beautiful aspect of the painting, with the whispered brushwork of the back hedges executed marvellously. The small hints of a low wintry sun speckling the gaps.

 

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