Sculpting Lives: Dora Gordine

Season 2, Episode 1,  Nov 02, 2021, 06:00 AM

When Dora Gordine died in 1991 leaving her Studio House to the nation, many people, including museum curators, assumed she had been dead for many years. How did an artist described by art critic Jan Gordon in The Observer in 1938 as ‘very possibly becoming the finest woman sculptor in the world’ disappear from view?

“Sculpture has a vital, important message” Dora Gordine (1895-1991)

When Dora Gordine died in 1991 leaving her Studio House to the nation, many people, including museum curators, assumed she had been dead for many years. How did an artist described by art critic Jan Gordon in The Observer in 1938 as ‘very possibly becoming the finest woman sculptor in the world’ disappear from view?

Critically lauded and successful in her early years, Gordine was the first woman sculptor to enter the Tate collection when her ‘Mongolian Head’, 1928 was acquired. Born in Latvia, trained in Estonia and Paris, worked and lived in East Asia. During her career, she produced a significant body of sculpture, often focusing on portraiture and sculpted heads. Gordine’s work prompts contemporary observers to ask questions about her portrayals of people from other cultures and individual identities and we talk to artists and art historians who are grappling with Gordine’s legacy.

In this episode we investigate how Gordine deliberately built a mystique around her identity, frequently changing her age and birthplace to create an enigmatic artistic persona (even the Tate still lists her date and place of birth incorrectly). Taking a modern, professional approach to sculptural production, she established studio homes in Paris and Singapore before settling in Kingston, South London,  designing (without an architect) the purpose-built Dorich House to make and display her art. The monumental Dorich House is now a museum and one of the very few created by and dedicated to a woman sculptor. 

With contributions from:

  • Helen Bonett, Curator, Writer, Lecturer
  • Jonathan Black, Senior Research Fellow, Kingston University
  • Fran Lloyd, Kingston University
  • Cathie Pilkington, R.A.
  • Erika Tan, Artist, Writer, Lecturer, Central St Martins, UAL
 
Image: Dora Gordine and April Brummer at Dorich House, 1956. Digital image courtesy of Royal Society of Sculptors