Internet Triumph in the Case of the disappearing Head of Sir Kenneth Clark

Gordine trained at art school in Tallinn, Estonia in 1917, subsequently becoming a teacher there, but her artistically formative years were spent in Paris in the 1920s, where she worked on the 1925 Art Deco exhibition as a painter at the British Pavilion. During 1925-26 her sculptures were noticed by the artist Pom Pom, who invited her to exhibit a Head of a Chinese Man at the 1926 Salon des Tuileries exhibition, which received enthusiastic reviews and established Gordine as a promising young artist. Solo exhibitions in London, Berlin and Paris followed in the late 1920s. Fascinated by the exotic and non-European, Gordine left Paris to work in Singapore in early 1930, marrying an English doctor, she lived there until 1935, when she returned to Europe, and the UK following a divorce. A second marriage to the aristocratic Richard Hare provided Dorich House in 1936, which they designed together as a modernist studio home. In 1947 Gordine was elected a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, working steadily on studies in bronze of the nude and portraits which continued to receive excellent reviews and sell well. At the pinnacle of her career in the early 1960s, she won two major public commissions, one for Esso and one for the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey.

When Hare died in 1966, after a distinguished career as a Professor of Russian literature and art at the School of Eastern European Studies at the University of London, Gordine lost a valuable link to her patronage and her best friend. Following her death in 1991, Kingston University took over Dorich House and carried out the couple’s wishes to make their studio home into a museum showing Hare’s Imperial Russian Art collection and Gordine’s sculpture. A monograph and catalogue raisonné, Dora GordineSculptor, Artist, Designer (Black and Martin, PWPLondon) was published in 2008. 

Recent acquisitions include the ‘lost’ bronze portrait head of Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), the eminent art historian and broadcaster, who sat to Gordine between 1943 and 1945. For years the plaster cast in the Dorich House Museum remained the only evidence that the portrait was ever realised. Curiously, his son, the politician, Alan Clark did not own the portrait, and seemed to be unaware of it, and none of the rest of the family had it either. Correspondence between Clark and Gordine record that two sittings for the bust were arranged in July 1943. Gordine broke her wrist in late September 1943 and Clark wrote with concern, ‘it seems a long time since I heard from you that in spite of your wrist being wrongly set you were getting back to work again. … We continue to wrap my effigy in damp cloths, so that should you ever wish to complete it, it will still be malleable’(Clark Papers, Tate Gallery Archives). A further ten one and a half hour sittings were made between June and December 1944, at Clark’s residence or his office. The head was finished by February 1945 when Sir Sydney Cockerell saw it at Gordine’s home, Dorich House, in Kingston upon Thames, and thought it was an ‘excellent likeness’. (19/2/1945 Cockerell Diaries, British Library).

So how did it come to be in a private collection in Canada, bought as a fine but unidentified bronze head by an unknown sculptor in 1964? Answers through the website please!

Sometime in 1964, a young collector accompanying his antique dealer mother on a buying trip to New York, saw the head by a sculptor, signed ‘Dota Gotdina’. He liked it, and lived with it in his summer residence, where after a while it made an admirable hat stand for a straw hat. During a clear out, the collector looked again and wondered if ‘Dota’ could be ‘Dora’ and ‘Gotdina’ could be Gor… The internet jumped to suggest Dora Gordine and through the Dorich House Museum website, the owner finally unlocked the secret of the rough signature on the piece and was able to get in touch via email. This important bronze is now on display in the sculpture collection at Dorich House, and the portrait was saved from being consigned to another antique shop, still unknown.

Main image: Dorich House Museum, London, SW15, (photo: Dorich House Museum),uk

Aurora Corio