Inscribed on the reverse: Catherine Carrington / nee Alexander / self portrait
Pencil on paper
27 x 24 cm. (9 ½ x 10 ½ in.)
This beautifully rendered pencil drawing is a rare work by Catherine Carrington, wife of Noel Carrington and sister-in-law, and close confident, of the Bloomsbury group painter Dora Carrington. Catherine was born in 1904 in rural England and educated primarily by her father – a schoolmaster and later craftsman – before winning a place at the Slade School of Art, which Dora herself had attended in 1910. In 1925 she married Noel, a well-known author, editor and publisher, and lived with him in Hampstead for the next twenty years, before moving to Long Acre farm in Berkshire after World War II. They had three children, one of whom was the artist Joanna Carrington.
Through Dora, Catherine and Noel were members of the Bloomsbury Group, a collective of closely-knit artists, writers and intellectuals. Often working and living together in complicated relationships, they embraced a Bohemian lifestyle and railed against bourgeoise conventions. Members included Vanessa Bell, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and, of course, Dora Carrington. Dora and Lytton Strachey, inseparable, set up a home together in 1917 but never married and indulged in numerous affairs over the years, with Dora marrying Ralph Partridge, an Oxford friend of her brother Noel, in 1921. While Ralph fell in love with Dora, Lytton fell in love with Ralph, and the three set up a complex ménage-à-trois relationship from 1924 onwards at Ham Spray House, in Wiltshire. There are numerous photographs of Catherine Carrington at Ham Spray House from the early 1930s (fig. 1), testament to her close relationship with Ralph, Lytton and Dora, who painted her in the mid 1920s (fig. 2). The sisters-in-law often corresponded, and confided, with each other by letter, until Dora’s death by suicide in 1932, unable to live without Lytton who had passed away a few months earlier.
Fig. 1, Ralph Partridge and Catherine Carrington at Ham Spray House,
Fig. 2, Dora Carrington, Portrait of Catherine Carrington,
oil on canvas, 40.5 x 30.5 cm, Chatsworth House, Devonshire Collection
Signed with her maiden name ‘Alexander’, the self-portrait was drawn by Catherine before her marriage to Noel in 1925. Most likely it was executed whilst a student at the Slade, and the technique compares very well to a portrait by Catherine of David John, dated to 1923 (fig. 3). The physiognomic comparisons between the present work and Dora’s portrait of Catherine of around the same time are striking, and clearly Catherine kept the same distinctive bob hairstyle throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The self-portrait, confidently drawn, with an individual style, attests to Catherine’s considerable skill as a draughtsman.
Fig. 3, Catherine Carrington, Portrait of David John, pencil on paper, 31 x 22.5 cm,
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