Dora Carrington was an artist who loved not only men but women as well.
She was part of the Bloomsbury Group along with Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf,
and Lytton Strachey. Her lifestyle was controversial due to the
fact that although she was married, she had a live-in lover and was living in a menage à trois.
Dora Carrington (Dora de Houghton Carrington) was born in 1893, in Hereford,
England. Her father was a merchant from Liverpool. Shortly after she
was born, they moved to Bedford, where she would attend an all girl's school
that was well-known for it's music and art training. Dora's parents would pay for Dora to take extra drawing classes after school.
In 1910, Dora trained at the Slade School of Fine Art, located in London,
after winning a full scholarship. While studying at the Slade School, she
would meet John Nash. It was John who inspired her interest in engraving
wood. She would also meet Mark Gertler, whose paintings of figures had a
strong influence on Dora's own style of portrait painting.
Dora was introduced into society by Mark Gertler, where she met the
well-known society hostess, Lady Ottoline Morrell. This is how Dora was
brought into the Bloomsbury Group.
While visiting Lady Morrell in 1915, at the Garsington Manor, Dora would meet
the biography writer Lytton Strachey. Dora felt since Lytton was a
confirmed homosexual that she could be friends with him without fear of sexual tension. This was not the case, however, as Dora fell madly in love with Lytton. This is a love that Dora carried through her whole life and would
even cause her to follow him to death.
Although Dora, along with Roger Fry, was a founding member of the Omega
Workshop, she only painted for personal pleasure, did not sign any of her
paintings, and very rarely held exhibitions. This caused Dora to not be a
well recognized painter during her life. She would also make wood carvings
for the Hogarth Press, which was founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf.
In 1917, Dora would end her friendship with Mark Gertler and she went to live
with Lytton in an old mill house they had rented. Dora would receive a
small inheritance after her father died in 1918. She used the money to
live a more independent life.
In 1919, Dora would meet a friend of her brother, Noel, named Ralph Partridge. Ralph had assisted Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press.
Dora and Lytton both fell deeply in love with Ralph Partridge. Ralph would
understand that Dora would not give up the platonic relationship and living
arrangements that she had with Lytton. Dora and Ralph would marry in 1921,
and the three of them went on a honeymoon to Venice, Italy. Lytton
Strachey wrote this about their situation:
"Women in love with buggers and
buggers in love with womanizers... I don't know what this world is coming to."
Dora would divide her time between painting and taking care of Lytton.
She would paint on most anything she could including items such as:
- and her friend's homes
As if her life wasn't complicated enough, she would have an affair with her
husband's army friend named Gerald Brenan. They had met Gerald when he had
moved to Spain, where Dora, Lytton, and Ralph visited for vacation. After
this affair, Dora and Gerald would have many correspondences with each other.
Dora would meet Henrietta Bingham, who was the daughter of an American
Ambassador in 1923. Henrietta caught Dora's eye, causing Dora to pursue her and become lovers with her. This relationship was another menage à trois
due to Henrietta being one of Lytton's ex-lovers.
In 1924, Lytton and Partridge leased a house in Hungerford in Wiltshire.
Dora, Lytton, and Ralph would live in this home until 1932. Dora's role
was that of a housekeeper and caretaker for Lytton. This role is ironic
for Dora as she rebelled against traditional roles for women while she was
growing up. All of the duties she had at this house did not leave her any
time to paint.
In 1925, Dora would meet Lytton's niece, Julia, who was a novelist and a
model along with being an art student. Julia was married but that didn't
stop Dora from enticing Julia into becoming lovers with her.
One of Ralph's friends, D.H. Lawrence, who occasionally visited them wrote
this about Dora:
"She was always hating men, hating all active maleness in a man. She
wanted only passive maleness in her life."
Ralph would have an affair of his own in 1926, with Frances Marshall and
would move with her to London. This ended his marriage with Dora, although
it wasn't an official end, as he would continue visiting her on most weekends
where they would be lovers.
Dora would meet a friend of Ralph's in 1928, named Bernard Penrose. He
was the younger brother of the artist Roland Penrose. Bernard inspired
Dora with a renewed interest in painting. The two of them would
collaborate on the making of three films as well as being lovers. Bernard
told Dora he wanted them to be exclusive lovers. This was a demand Dora
refused to meet because she would not end her relationship with Lytton.
This was her last sexual affair with a man and it ended with Dora having an
abortion because she was pregnant with Bernard's baby and wanted no memory of
Lytton would become severely ill in November of 1931, and became even worse
in December. This caused Dora to attempt suicide by closing herself in the
garage and running the car, trying to asphyxiate herself. Her plan did not
work as Ralph rescued her before she could die. She regained enough of her
health that she could take care of Lytton until he died in January of 1932.
Dora was so depressed over Lytton's death, after spending 17 years with him.
She borrowed a gun from a neighbor and shot herself. She did not die
instantly as the neighbor found her lying on the floor. The neighbor
contacted Ralph, who brought David Garnett and Frances Marshall with him to the
house and they arrived with just enough time to tell Dora they loved her and say goodbye to her.
The 1995 movie "Carrington" depicted the relationships among Frances
Marshall, Ralph Partridge, the painter Dora Carrington and the biographer Lytton
Review of the movie "Carrington"