Carrington, Dora de Houghton, 1893-1932

Alternative names
Birth 1893-03-29
Death 1932-03-11

Biographical notes:

British painter; member of Bloomsbury group.

From the description of Dora Carrington Collection, 1912-1965. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122617186

Dora Carrington, fourth child of a family of five, was born at Hereford in 1893. In 1903, the family moved to Bedford where Dora Carrington attended Bedford School for Girls excelling at art. Encouraged by the headmistress, Carrington was successful in gaining a place at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1910. Her contemporaries included Mark Gertler, C.R.W. Nevinson, Dorothy Brett, Barbara Bagenal, Stanley Spencer, David Bomberg, and the Nash brothers. Dora Carrington won a number of prizes at the Slade for figure composition, figure painting and painting from the cast. 1914 was a year of upheaval as Dora Carrington left the Slade and the family moved to Ibthorpe House, Hurstbourne Tarrant, near Andover. During the following year, Dora Carrington became a frequent visitor to Garsington Manor, the home of Lady Ottoline and Philip Morrell and in December, met Lytton Strachey at Leonard and Virginia Woolf's house in Sussex. Through a legacy of ¹20 from a family friend, Dr Roberts, Dora Carrington was able to take a studio at 16 Yeoman's Row, London SW3 in the Spring of 1916; moving again in September to the 'Ark', 3 Gower Street, London W1. However, after a holiday with Lytton Strachey, Barbara Hiles and her fiancee Nicholas Bagenal in Wales over the summer, Dora Carrington started looking for a house for herself and Lytton. In October of that year, 'Mendel' a book by Gilbert Cannan was published which gave an account of Carrington and Gertler's relationship; their affair ended after Gertler attacked Lytton in the street in February 1918. Prior to this and after much searching, Dora Carrington and Lytton found a house, in November 1917, at Tidmarsh Mill, near Pangbourne, Berkshire. In the summer of 1918, John Hope Johnstone introduced Dora Carrington to Ralph Partridge who soon became a frequent visitor to Tidmarsh Mill. Carrington was able to retain a certain amount of financial independence through a small legacy that her father, who died in December 1918, left her in his will. Lytton had quickly established his reputation and financial security with the publication, in May, of 'Eminent Victorians'. After a walking tour of Spain with her brother Noel and Ralph, during Easter 1919, Carrington and Ralph became lovers. In May, Carrington met Gerald Brenan, Ralph's best friend and they began to correspond. Carrington visited Gerald Brenan in Yegen, Granada in April 1920 with Ralph and Lytton. Later that month, Ralph and Carrington took on the first floor flat in James Strachey's house at 41 Gordon Square, for a trial period, with weekends at Tidmarsh. On 21 May 1921 Dora Carrington and Ralph married followed by a honeymoon in Venice; joined by Lytton for a second week of touring. In July, Gerald visited Tidmarsh and an intimacy with Dora Carrington began. In November, 'Chrome Yellow' a satire on Garsington by Aldous Huxley was published. In 1922 Ralph met Frances Marshall for the first time at the Birrell & Garnett bookshop. By March 1922, Ralph had begun an affair with Valentine Dobree, whilst Carrington's unconsummated affair with Gerald became public in May. Following Gerald's return to Spain, Carrington was forbidden by Ralph to contact him again until November. Dora Carrington continued to spend time abroad with Lytton and friends, travelling to Tunis, Marseilles, Vermenton and in 1923 Paris, where she visited the Louvre. This year also saw Carrington begin her tinselled paintings on glass. By October, Carrington, Lytton and Ralph had found another house, Ham Spray in Wiltshire, which the latter two purchased in January 1924. In the preceeding month, there was a reconciliation in Spain between Ralph, Gerald and Carrington. On their way back through France, Frances Marshall fell in love with Ralph; Dora Carrington acted as chaperone. Lytton's play `The Son of Heaven' (1912), with costume designs by Carrington, was performed at the Scala Theatre, London in July 1925. By the following year Frances Marshall had moved into 41 Gordon Square so that Ralph could join her there; Lytton was to rent a ground-floor room in 1927. Dora Carrington started the decoration of George Ryland's room at King's College, Cambridge in January 1928. This year saw the end of her affair with Gerald and the beginning of her friendship with Beakus Penrose. Dora Carrington continued her trips abroad over this period visiting France and the Netherlands with Lytton, Ralph and Sebastian Sprott. In November 1929 Dora Carrington discovered that she was pregnant by Beakus Penrose and had an abortion. Dora Carrington painted her last work, a trompe l'oeil window for Bryan and Diana Guiness in October 1931. By November, Lytton had become gravely ill, dying on 21 January 1932, aged 52. Carrington had attempted suicide a few hours earlier. At the age of 38, Dora Carrington shot herself on 11 March 1932.

From the guide to the Material (mostly photocopied correspondence with artwork, printed ephemera and photographs) relating to Dora Carrington compiled by her brother, Noel Carrington and by her friend, David Garnett as source material for their respective publications (see citations below)., 1908-1979, (Tate Gallery Archive GB 70)

Dora de Houghton Carrington (1893-1932) was the fourth of five children born to Samuel Carrington and Charlotte Houghton. In 1902 the family moved to Bedford, where Carrington attended a girls' high school which emphasized sports, music, and drawing over more mundane subjects. The teachers encouraged Carrington's drawing and her parents paid for her to attend extra drawing classes in the afternoons. In 1910 she entered the Slade School of Art in London. Following the tradition of the co-ed school, Carrington dropped her first name and was known simply as Carrington. She also started a new fashion at the school, along with her good friends Dorothy Brett and Barbara Hiles who attended the Slade at the same time, by cutting her hair into a kind of bowl cut. It was also at the Slade that she met Mark Gertler, a fellow artist who would pursue her romantically for several years.

Carrington acquitted herself well at the Slade, winning several prizes and moving quickly through the courses. She left school in 1914 and returned to her parents' home to decide on her next step. She enjoyed being in the country but felt stifled by the lack of intellectual stimulation in general and her mother in particular. Gertler introduced her to Lady Ottoline Morrell, and thus into the Bloomsbury group of artists and writers. It was while visiting Morrell at Garsington Manor in 1915 that Carrington was introduced to Lytton Strachey, a writer and confirmed homosexual. Gertler, feeling that Strachey could act as a safe go-between for himself, encouraged their friendship. To his dismay, Carrington fell inexplicably and deeply in love with Strachey, a love that would last for the rest of her life and cause her to follow him from life into death.

In 1917 Carrington's relationship with Gertler ended and when Strachey rented Mill House, Tidmarsh, she moved in with him. Carrington met Ralph Partridge, an Oxford friend of her younger brother Noel, in 1918. Partridge fell in love with Carrington and, accepting that she was still in love with Strachey and would not give up her platonic relationship or living arrangements with him, married her in 1921. In 1924 he and Strachey purchased the lease to Ham Spray House, near Hungerford, and all three lived out their lives there.

Over the next eight years Carrington divided her time between domestic chores, caring for Strachey whose health was erratic, and her art work. She painted on almost any medium she could find including glass, tiles, pub signs, and the walls of friends' homes; she also made woodcuts for Hogarth Press and did some leather work. She had two well-known affairs, one with Gerald Brenan, an army friend of Partridge's, and the other with a sailor, Beakus Penrose. In 1926 Partridge formed an attachment to Frances Marshall, ending his marriage with Carrington in spirit, if not in law, but maintained his role of manager for Ham Spray House, visiting most weekends.

In November 1931 Strachey became suddenly and violently ill. Doctors fluctuated between diagnoses of typhoid fever and ulcerative colitis, but his condition -- stomach cancer -- was not accurately diagnosed until an autopsy was performed. Round the clock nurses were hired and various treatments were tried. In late December he took a turn for the worse and on December 20 Carrington attempted suicide by shutting herself in the garage with the car running. Partridge rescued her and she recovered enough to spend the last few days of Strachey's life taking her turn watching over him. On January 21, 1932, Strachey died. The greatest concern of their friends now became preventing Carrington from killing herself; arrangements were made to keep her occupied and attended. In March Carrington was planning for a trip to France and her friends began to feel less concern, but she also borrowed a gun from a neighbor, ostensibly to shoot rabbits in her garden. On March 11, 1932, she shot herself fatally. She was found before she died and Ralph Partridge, Frances Marshall, and David Garnett arrived at Ham Spray House in time to say good-bye.

From the guide to the Dora Carrington Collection TXRC98-A18., 1912-1965, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin)


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  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • England (as recorded)
  • Tidmarsh Mill, Pangbourne, Berkshire (as recorded)
  • Ham Spray House, Wiltshire (as recorded)