A gramophone with a story to tell

This gramophone cabinet was an early model manufactured by H.M.V. with working turntable and winding handle housed inside. Originally decorated with just a dark oak varnish finish, it started life as quite an un-assuming, modest object. Around 1928, the piece came into the possession of artist Dora Carrington, who had been commissioned to decorate the exterior by Alix Strachey, sister to Carrington’s long-time companion, the writer Lytton Strachey. Carrington then painted it with highly colourful and detailed musical instruments and floral motifs throughout.

Whilst hand-painted furniture was fashionable in the 1930s and indicative of the Bloomsbury artists this style over the years, became less fashionable with a preference for more low-key and subtle design; by 1985 when it came up for auction all the side panels had been painted magnolia, with only the lid still showing Carrington’s original artwork. There was however evidence that under the magnolia, Carrington’s art still existed. The museum sought expert advice from a conservator who was confident the paint could be removed without damaging the underlying detail.

It was purchased by the museum, and following conservation treatment the whole object was restored to reveal Dora Carrington’s elaborate and spectacular decoration in its entirety; which had been hidden for many years. Few pieces of hand-painted furniture by Dora Carrington now exist and so this object has become one of the most significant decorative art objects in the permanent collection.

Detailed information on the illustrations:
The lid has a roundel with flowers, foliage and a blue bow. In the centre is a figure of a seated woman in a classical style blue dress playing a harp.
The left side panel has a violin, bow and a guitar, with a blue sash and flowers in the background.
The right side panel shows two French horns, drapery and flowers.
The inner left door has a purple serpent and two orange tulips, the inner right door has a cornet and a purple rose.
The exterior of the doors has one image running across both and depicts a desert scene with an elaborate tent and man reclining on an ottoman who is being entertained by a man playing a guitar.

Dora Carrington

Dora Carrington was born in 1893 in Hereford. She attended the Slade School of Art from 1910 to 1914 and started exhibiting as a professional artist in 1913 at the New English Art Club. A year later she moved to live in Hampshire where she continued to paint for many years.

In 1915 she met Lytton Strachey at Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s house in Sussex; a relationship that lasted until Lytton’s death in 1932. Whilst it was not a mutually exclusive relationship, with both Lytton and Dora having other partners, it was one that had the greatest impact on Carrington’s life; less than two months after Lytton died in 1932, Dora Carrington committed suicide at the age of 38.

Throughout her lifetime she produced frescoes, portraits, woodcuts, interior and fabric designs, still life paintings, and hand-painted decorated furniture and glass. She had always painted flowers, often on a pointillist background which offered endless permutations for showing texture, colour and light. Whilst she received acclaim for her work from peers such as Roger Fry, André Derain, and Duncan Grant, she didn’t get proper recognition for her art until the 1960s, when a retrospective exhibition of her work in London made her known to the general public.

In 1978 Sir John Rothenstein, Director of the Tate Gallery from 1938 to 1964, commented that she was “the most neglected serious painter of her time”.