Dora Gordine: an extraordinary artistic legacy

Dr Fiona Fisher, Curator of Dorich House Museum, Kingston University, London, introduces the remarkable life of the sculptor Dora Gordine (1895-1991)

Dora Gordine was a complex, charismatic and intriguing character whose fluid identity is perhaps best described as transnational. Born in Latvia in 1895, she grew up in Estonia, where she trained as a sculptor, and went on to live and work in Paris and the Far East before settling in London in the 1930s.

She spoke several languages, among them, Russian, Estonian, German, French and English. She concealed her Jewish identity, amending her family name from Gordin to Gordine, and adjusted her age and nationality with great freedom according to her audience and intentions. She was married three times, lived for her work, and obscured or denied her professional training when it suited her better to be cast in the role of the young artistic genius. In her later years she told children of her acquaintance extravagant stories about her dramatic flight from revolutionary Russia and more than one adult in her social circle was under the impression that her father had been a member of the Scots Guards, neither of which was true.

Custom-designed modern studio home

When Gordine died in 1991 she left behind a biographical maze of her own making, with enough twists, turns and blind alleys to confound the most diligent researcher. She also left Dorich House, an extraordinary modern studio house at Kingston upon Thames in Surrey, built to her own design in 1936 and now a Grade II listed building; a once-acclaimed, but at that time largely forgotten body of paintings, drawings and sculpture; and an extensive collection of imperial Russian art and design, the joint enterprise of Gordine and her husband, the Hon. Richard Hare, a scholar of Russian art and literature.

Dorich House was acquired and fully renovated by Kingston University in the early 1990s. Since then, art and design historians at the University have worked to recover Gordine's past and place her professional life and work within the wider context of twentieth century art and design. Their research led to the publication of the first monograph on Gordine, Dora Gordine: Artist, Sculptor, Designer (incorporating a catalogue raisonné) and to the first retrospective exhibition of her work, held at Dorich House Museum and Kingston Museum in 2009. In 2012 the exhibition travelled to Estonia where it was shown at the Adamson-Eric Museum in Tallinn.

Relaunch and new fellowship programme

Today, eighty years after Gordine and Hare first took up residence, Kingston University is proud to have in its care one of the only studio house museums in the world designed by, and dedicated to the work of a female artist. In the spirit of Gordine's exemplary artistic life Dorich House Museum recently relaunched as an international centre to support women's creative practice. The Museum is now run in conjunction with the University's contemporary art and design gallery, the Stanley Picker Gallery, creating opportunities for dialogue between the two venues.

In autumn 2015 the Stanley Picker Gallery invited artists Fiona Banner, Cullinan Richards, Hilary Lloyd and Nicole Wermers to contribute to Dora, an exhibition in which each chose and presented work by Gordine alongside work of their own to reflect upon her artistic legacy. Current Stanley Picker Gallery Fine Art Fellow, Oreet Ashery, draws inspiration from Gordine's life and work in her project, Re-visiting Genesis, a web series filmed partly at Dorich House. Ashery's fellowship show runs at the Stanley Picker Gallery in Kingston from 14 April to 11 June.

In conjunction with its relaunch, Dorich House Museum has also established its own fellowship programme which will support female practitioners across the creative spectrum. British artist Hilary Lloyd, the inaugural Dorich House Museum Fellow, is currently creating new work in response to the house and collections for display at the Museum later in its anniversary year.

The Gallery at Dorich House Museum

About the author...

Dr Fiona Fisher is Curator at Dorich House Museum, a rare example of a surviving studio belonging to a woman artist

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