Exhibited: 50/50; Fifty British Women Artists 1900 ‚Äì 1950, Worshipful Company of Mercers (3rd December 2018 – 23rd March, 2019); The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds (9th April, 2019 – 27th July, 2019).
When Carrington painted Eggs on a Table, she was probably at her happiest.
The house near Pangbourne that she had found, furnished and decorated
for her companion and one true love, Lytton Strachey ‚Äì the homosexual
writer and founder member of the Bloomsbury Group ‚Äì was where a
remarkable ‚Äútriangular trinity of happiness‚Äù flourished after the handsome
and practical Ralph Partridge joined them in 1919. He helped her in
the garden, where they grew beans and raspberries, and with the ducks
and chickens that provided them with eggs. Her letters from the time are
sprinkled with enchanting drawings of flowers, fruit and poultry, as well as
descriptions of sketching Ralph in the nude.
Inevitably, given that she loved Lytton, who loved Ralph, who loved
her, their happiness was volatile. In 1921, with great reluctance, she
married Ralph after he threatened to leave the ménage; her reaction was to
start a romance with his best friend. By 1923 all three had other loves, and
rows and recriminations marred the Tidmarsh idyll. In 1924 they moved
to a bigger, airier house under the Downs near Hungerford. There was still
much laughter and happiness ahead, but Carrington always looked back on
the early years at Tidmarsh Mill as the best.
She never stopped working at her painting, but her devotion to
Lytton’s wellbeing and endless emotional complications, combined with
her natural diffidence about her work, so very different as it was from the
other Bloomsbury artists, impeded her progress as an artist. Although some
of her portraits are perhaps her strongest work, the freshness, simplicity and
delight in colour and shape in this picture make Eggs on a Table a radiant
celebration of the pleasures of her domestic life at its most harmonious.
Commentary by Anne Chisholm, biographer and reviewer, most recently of the Bloomsbury diarist Frances Partridge. Her edition of Carrington’s Letters (2017) will be out in paperback in 2019.