'Russian/Exotic/Jewish' : Dora Gordine (1895?–1991), sculpture and identity in the UK 1928–1940

Black, Jonathan (2021) 'Russian/Exotic/Jewish' : Dora Gordine (1895?–1991), sculpture and identity in the UK 1928–1940. In: 2021 Annual Conference for art history; 14-17 Apr 2021, Birmingham, U.K. (Held online). (Unpublished)


This paper is derived from research undertaken over a number of years regarding the intriguing figure of Russo-Latvian-Jewish sculptor Dora Gordine (born Gordin). Born in Latvia when still part of the Russian Empire into a prosperous middle-class Jewish family, she moved to Paris to study under Maillol in the mid-1920s. In the French capital, it was noticeable that she specifically cultivated British collectors, patrons and sitters for her portrait sculpture. From the outset, her British ‘fan base’, with many numerous links to the Bloomsbury Group, appreciated her perceived ‘exoticness’ as simultaneously supposedly ‘Russian’ combined with her Eastern European Jewish heritage. Gordine had her first UK solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in October 1928. It was a financial and critical success – with the critics singling out the allure of her ‘exotic’ bronze sculpture. This paper will argue that in large part the perceived exotic allure of Gordine’s sculpture can be traced to her Russo-Jewish heritage maintaining a delicate balance in the minds of her cultivated British spectators. She and her work were regarded as part of an established neo-classical tendency energised by her Jewish Eastern European cosmopolitanism. By the mid-1930s, Gordine’s identity within the UK had been further complicated by marriage to her third husband – Anglo-Irish aristocrat Richard Hare, heir to the earldom of Listowel – and the related construction with the support of that husband of an Art Deco studio-house for Gordine on Kingston Vale in south-west London. Gordine’s position within the British art world was secured by another solo exhibition of her sculpture at the Leicester Galleries. This opened early in November 1938 to rapturous reviews and yet awareness of a Jewishness perceived as still problematic was awakened within a matter of days by news of the Kristallnacht pogrom in Germany

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