Russian Art And 30s Sculpture At Dorich House

| 25 July 2006
photo shows back of stretching man in boots, trousers and hat

A plaster cast for the image of an oil worker, commissioned by Esso Petroleum Company in 1962.

Dorich House is only seventy years old this year, but it has had an eventful history. It was the modernist home of Eastern European artist Dora Gordine and her Russian art collecting husband Richard Hare, and the interior is filled with their artistic passions.

The house has a 'stately home' aura from the pre-revolutionary Russian furniture and paintings that fill many of the rooms, but this is undercut by the modernist architecture as well as the sculptures by Gordine. Gordine used the house as her studio, and you can still see a jumble of sculpted heads and sketched designs in some rooms. Her sculptures include famous figures of the 30s - 50s such as actresses Dorothy Tutin and Dame Edith Evans. By the time she built the house she was already a famous artist, having studied in Paris and worked in Singapore.

photo shows russian chairs

Russian chairs from Dorich House

The facts of Dora Gordine's early life are contested, although we know she was Jewish and Eastern European. She described herself as Russian, born in 1906 in St Petersburg, but other evidence suggests that she was born in Latvia around 1898. She married Richard Hare in 1936, and moved permanently to Britain after years in the Far East. They completed the design of Dorich House that year. It was consciously created as a work of art as well as a home, with visitors being asked to wear slippers as they entered the house.

photo shows studio windows

Dora Gordine's sculpture studio. The house was carefully designed to be filled with light all day.

During the Second World War, Hare worked as a civil servant dealing with Anglo-Soviet relations and became convinced of the need for greater understanding of Russian culture in Britain. This inspired his collections of Russian art, which included furniture, religious icons, ceramics, lacquered boxes and delicately painted eggs. Many objects summon up wealthy, pre-revolutionary Russian life, when much Russian design was in turn modelling itself on French design. The Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House in central London also shows a rotating collection of 'luxury' Russian art from a similar period.

photo shows sculptures

Plaster casts of Dora Gordine's sculptures on display in the house.

The house was a centre for people from the London arts world in the 40s and 50s, with Hare and Gordine giving dinner parties even in the war years. But after Hare's sudden death in 1966, Gordine's health gradually began to fail, and the immaculate house to fall apart. In the years before her death in 1992 casual observers assumed that the house was uninhabited - the grounds were overgrown and the roof close to collapse.

Hare and Gordine had wanted to donate the house to the nation, and on her death Kingston University agreed to take it over, and gradually restored the building and contents.

Today the house is open only once a month, with a break during the summer. The relatively rare and few intruders mean that you can still capture the atmosphere of the house as a home rather than a public space, and imagine the lives of an artistic upper-middle class couple of the 1930s. The sculptures bring a vitality to the house and prevent it feeling like another 'stately' home.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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