Sunday, March 9, 2008

Maverick spirits (Film - Carrington)

My reading Pat Barker's Life Class this week and seeing the film Carrington again this weekend (it was one of The Ragazzo's Valentine's gifts), I was reminded of some of my favorite Bloomsburyites. Ottolline Morrell figures in Barker's book and Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington are the central figures in the film, along with Vanessa Bell and Morrell. In fact, Dora Carrington and the three central characters in Life Class attended the same art school - The Slade - in the same period - the 1910s. With the exception of Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury is now known more for their unconventional domestic arrangements than for their art, but I very much enjoy seeing the work of Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell when I can. The Courtauld gallery in London had a wonderful show of the fine and decorative art of the Omega workshop artists several years ago. (The Omega workshop was a design movement started by the Bloomsbury artists, not unlike the Bauhaus in Germany or the Weiner Werkstatte in Vienna, it was interested in the integration of modern decorative art with everyday life.) Its output included pottery, furniture, fabric, and the original book jacket designs for Virginia Woolf's books, by her sister Vanessa. I particularly love seeing photographs of Virginia and Vanessa's homes because their furniture, their dishes and even their walls were decorated by Omega.

One of the pleasures of the film Carrington is seeing the designers' renditions of the spaces Dora Carrington created for her life with Lytton Strachey. Another are the incredibly fine performances of Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce playing these two maverick spirits. Gorgeous acting. Dora Carringont is now something of a ghost hovering on the fringes of Bloomsbury, however she lived and painted with passionate originality. If you look at some of the paintings I've linked to above, her landscapes are not unlike O'Keefe's . Strachey is now a barely remembered as an eccentric wearer of floppy hats, but he was author of the influential book Eminent Victorians and an eminent debunker of Victorian values, the descendant of a long line of military officers, a sexual pioneer, and a staunch critic of the upper classes.

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