13 April 1895|
Liepāja, Latvia, Russian Empire
|Died||29 December 1991
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England, UK
|Known for||Painting, sculpture, interior design|
|Notable work(s)||Happy Baby, Mother and Child, head sculptures, Dorich House|
|Awards||Fellow of Royal British Society of Sculptors (FRBS), Society of Portrait Sculptors|
Dora Gordine, FRBS (13 April 1895 – 29 December 1991) aka La Gordine, was an Estonian sculptor.
Early career to 1939
Dora Gordine's childhood has not been well documented. There is confusion over her date of birth with various dates 1895 (likely), 1898 and 1906 mentioned. She was the youngest of four children born to Morduch ("Mark") Gordin and Esther (née Schepschelevitch) in Liepāja, Latvia, at a time when it was still part of the Russian Empire. Two of her siblings, Nikolai and Anna, died at the hands of the Nazis in Tallinn, Estonia in 1941. Another brother, Leopold, escaped and lived in London until his death.
She came to Paris to study music and art, making the acquaintance of Aristide Maillol. Then, surrounded by galleries and salons, she "instinctively felt a correlation between the rhythms of music and sculpture" and developed her sculptural vision. Gordin gallicised her surname by adding an "e".
In 1925 she worked as a painter on a mural for the British Pavilion at the Decorative Arts Exhibition. It provided the means to cast a bronze for exhibition at the Beaux Arts Society. The following year she was invited to exhibit at the Salon des Tuileries where her design of the head & torso of a Chinese philosopher earned enthusiastic reviews; The Straits Times (1932) wrote: "Like Byron, one morning Dora Gordine woke up famous". Between 1929 and 1935 she sculpted bronzes for the City Hall, Singapore. Leicester Galleries in London presented Gordine's sculpture in a solo show in 1928. It was a huge success and all her work was sold, amongst which Javanese Head was bought by Samuel Courtauld for the Tate Gallery collection.
In 1936 she married the Hon. Richard Gilbert Hare (5 September 1907–1966), son of Richard Granville Hare, 4th Earl of Listowel and Freda Vanden-Bempde-Johnstone on 21 November 1936. They lived at Dorich House, London.
Her husband introduced her to London society figures, many of whom sat for her, Dame Edith Evans, Dame Beryl Grey, Dorothy Tutin, Siân Phillips, Emlyn Williams, Sir Kenneth Clark, John Pope-Hennessy and Professor F. Brown, Head of the Slade School of Art. There were also overseas commissions including the Philosopher Kuu Nim, whose head sculpture Gordine called 'the Chinese Lady of Peace' and a bas-relief at Gray's Inn to Sun Yat-Sen, the former leader of China.
Each portrait head had its own patina according to Gordine's vision of her sitter. When interviewed by the BBC in 1972 Gordine commented that "when you do portrait busts of somebody you do their noses and mouth – but it is nothing. You have to imagine what they are like inside and bring out their inner feeling and then put it in a form".
During the 1940s/50s Gordine's work was exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, the Society of Portrait Sculptors and elsewhere. Bronzes from this time have ironic or humorous titles, relating to the pose, such as 'Great Expectations' or 'Mischief' and, of an RAF Officer, 'Above Cloud'. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors in 1949. She occasionally did exotic or erotic pieces (e.g. for Elizabeth Choy). She travelled and lectured in America, working in Hollywood, art lecturing and designing film sets in 1947 and revisited the USA in 1959.
In 1948 she was commissioned to produce a sculpture to stand in the new mother and baby unit at Holloway Prison in north London. 'Happy Baby' was largely forgotten by 2009 languishing in an administration block at the prison for many years. Now regarded as an important piece in 'La Gordine's' professional history it formed the centre piece of an exhibition of her work at Kingston University in February–March 2009.
In 1960 Esso commissioned a 7' x 5' bas-relief 'Power' for their new Milford Haven Refinery, which was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh. Gordine's last public commission, the 8' long 'Mother and Child' was made for the entrance hall of the Royal Marsden Hospital, Surrey, in 1963.
Her husband's sudden death in 1966 from a heart attack left Gordine to live out her life alone in Dorich House. She had no children. Her career ended in the 1970s. She had a great interest in her garden and, in particular, herbs and plants used for medicinal purposes, such as Tansy. Adrian Howes and Robert Ruthven were her part-time gardeners for nearly two years in the mid-seventies. She often invited the members of the Royal Ballet School to Dorich house to pose for her.
She died in Dorich House in December 1991, aged around 96. A building of architectural importance, it is now owned by Kingston University.
- Salon de Tuileries, Paris (1926, 1933)
- Leicester Galleries, London (1928, 1933, 1938, 1945, 1949)
- Royal Academy of Arts (1937–1941, 1944–1950, 1952–1960)
- Battersea Park Arts Council (1948)
- Fine Art Society, London (1986)
- The London Jewish Museum of Art (2006)
- Kingston University, London (2009)
- "In May 1925 Dora exhibited a Bronze (503) at the Salon Nationale (closed at the end of August 1925). She gave her birthplace as 'Libau', her nationality as 'Esthoniene'..." Dora Gordine Estonian Jewish Museum
- Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition Gordin Family Document Archive 2001
- Kwok Kian Chow. Channels & Confluences: A History of Singapore Art. Singapore: National Heritage Board/Singapore Art Museum, 1996
- Dr Jonathan Black,Sculptor, artist, Designer: Sculptor, Designer and Artist, Classical serenity in a Troubled Age: Dora Gordine's Commissions During The 1940's, Philip Wilson (London 2009), ISBN 0-85667-644-6
- 1972 BBC interview subsequently partly repeated in February 2009 on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour
- Foster, Alicia (2004). Tate Women Artists. London: Tate Publishing. p. 109. ISBN 1-85437-311-0.
- Dr Jonathan Black, sculptor, artist, Designer: Sculptor, Designer and Artist, Philip Wilson (London 2009), ISBN 0-85667-644-6
- Kingston University Press Office: Jailbreak Baby Goes On the Run from Holloway
-  Dorich House
-  Ben Uri Gallery, London Jewish Museum of Art
-  University Scholars Programme Project
-  Kingston University website