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Carrington, Dora (1893-1932)  
 
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Dora de Houghton Carrington was an English painter, designer and decorative artist whose life and relationships were complex. She is best known for her deep attachment to the homosexual writer Lytton Strachey, but she had affairs with both men and women.

Carrington painted only for her own pleasure, did not sign her works, and rarely exhibited them, hence she was not well known as a painter during her lifetime. Even though she was a founding member of the Omega Workshop with Roger Fry, her decorative art also remained unknown to the public until the late 1960s.

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Born in Hereford, England on March 29, 1893, Dora Carrington was the fourth child of Samuel Carrington and Charlotte Houghton. When Dora was ten years old the family moved to Bedford where she attended a girls' high school and took extra art classes. Seven years later, in 1910, Dora won a scholarship to the Slade School of Art in London where she studied with Henry Tonks and Fred Brown until 1914.

During her years at Slade, the artist dropped her first name, becoming known simply as Carrington, and cut her hair into a bowl cut. She was a successful student at the Slade School and was awarded several prizes during her years there.

When Carrington was eighteen she met Mark Gertler (1897-1939), a fellow artist who had the most influence on her early years. Thus began the first of several complex and tense friendships or love affairs that Carrington was to have during her life. She enjoyed Gertler's friendship and a brief affair, but she rebelled against the prevailing standard that a woman be subservient to a man. Carrington painted Gertler's portrait in 1911.

Through Gertler, Carrington became friends with several members of the Bloomsbury Group. She met celebrated writer Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) at one of the Bloomsbury gatherings. They became great friends and, even though Strachey was unabashedly homosexual, vowed to share their lives.

One of Carrington's most famous paintings is the Portrait of Lytton Strachey (1916). During 1917, Strachey rented the mill house near Tidmarsh Mill in Panbourne, Berkshire. Carrington shared the lodging with him. The same year, the artist created woodcuts for Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Two Stories, published by the Hogarth Press.

Carrington's father died in 1918 leaving her a small inheritance that allowed her to feel more independent. In the same year she met Ralph Partridge, an Oxford friend of her brother Noel, who assisted Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press. Both Strachey and Carrington fell in love with the heterosexual Partridge, who accepted the fact that she would never leave Strachey.

Carrington and Partridge married in 1921. They honeymooned in Venice with Strachey, and the three lived together in a ménage à trois. The following year Carrington had the first of her two extra-marital love affairs with men.

Carrington's first lover was Gerald Brenan, an Army officer and friend of Partridge's who was a writer and critic. He had moved to Yegen, Spain in 1919. Partridge, Carrington, and Strachey visited him there in 1920, after which Carrington developed a lengthy correspondence with him and painted his portrait. They had a brief affair in 1922 and Carrington's oil painting Mountain Range at Yegen, Andalusia was painted in 1924.

Carrington's sexual feelings toward women were awakened in 1923 when she met Henrietta Bingham, the daughter of the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Carrington actively pursued Henrietta and they became lovers.

Carrington privately began to identify herself as a lesbian. During her brief time with Henrietta, she created a pen and ink drawing of her lover, the artist's first erotic drawing of a woman. The relationship was also another ménage à trois. Henrietta had been Strachey's lover and was a comrade of Carrington's friend Stephen Tomlin.

The following year Strachey and Partridge purchased the lease to Ham Spray House near Hungerford in Wiltshire. Carrington, Strachey, and Partridge lived there from 1924 until 1932.

Carrington's role at Ham Spray House was to take care of the domestic chores, care for Strachey, and execute a decorative scheme. Her decision to devote her life to Strachey and to be responsible for household chores is ironic given her early rebellion against traditional roles for women in her day. The decision also robbed her of time for her own art.

During 1925, Carrington met Julia Strachey, Lytton's niece and a novelist who had once been a Parisian model and an art student at the Slade. Julia, who frequently visited Ham Spray, was married to Stephen Tomlin but briefly became one of Carrington's lovers. The artist painted an oil Portrait of Julia Strachey (1925). The artist's more private pencil drawing of Julia illustrated the sexual passion Carrington felt toward her.

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Dora Carrington with Lytton Strachey.
  
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