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Thursday, 18 November 2010

John S. Currie and Dorothy Henry

In 1911 John S. Currie met Dorothy Henry, a tall, attractive seventeen-year-old who modelled dresses at a Regent Street department store. Currie's friend and patron, Michael Sadleir, remarked that she "was of flower-like loveliness, but lascivious and possessive to the last degrees. Her lure for men were irresistible, and Currie was of course utterly enslaved to her physical attraction, a fact of which she was well aware." Currie's wife discovered the affair in August 1911 and he abandoned her and his young son and set-up home with Dolly in Primrose Hill.

David Boyd Haycock, the author of A Crisis of Brilliance (2009) has argued: "They were indifferent to public opinion - an independence of mind that impressed the young Gertler. But it was a hopelessly doomed relationship. Dolly was poorly educated, unintelligent, and had no interest in art. She resented Currie's absorption in his work, and attempted to make herself the centre of his life." Haycock quotes a friend who later recalled that Dolly used the power of her beauty and sexuality "to goad him from abject desire to baffled fury and then, suddenly complaisant, to win him back again. This dangerous cruelty led to violent quarrels and blows."

In July 1912, Currie, Dora Henry and Mark Gertler went on holiday to Ostend. They had a good time but Gertler showed concern about Currie's behavior. He suggested that Currie's love of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche had left him immoral. Stanley Spencer strongly disliked Currie and said: "I cannot bear him." Adrian Allinson pointed out that Currie was insanely jealous of Dolly: "Violent jealously continually drove Currie to threats of murder... Dolly's beauty, and pity for her lot, aroused in more than one painter the desire to replace the Irishman, so that Currie's jealousy, originally groundless, in time created the conditions for its own justification."

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska introduced Currie to Edward Marsh, the great-grandson of Spencer Perceval,who was a major collector of modern art. He invited Currie to dinner at Gray's Inn. He brought Dolly Henry with him and Marsh described her as "an extremely pretty Irish girl with red hair". The following wrote to Rupert Brooke: "Currie came yesterday I have conceived a passion for both him and Gertler, they are decidedly two of the most interesting of les jeunes, and I can hardly wait till you come back to make their acquaintance." In August 1913 Marsh decided to spend an inheritance from an aunt on paintings by Currie, Mark Gertler and Stanley Spencer.

Gertler found Currie's behaviour increasing erratic and he told Dorothy Brett: "Friendships are terribly difficult to manage and I don't think they are worth the trouble. Henry is not intelligent at all - that's the trouble. Frankly I prefer to stand alone. I need no great friend at all. Ties are a terrible nuisance and hindrance to an artist." Currie was confused by Gertler's attitude and later told Edward Marsh, "Marsh's attitude to friends is rather curious - rather like mine to ladies... A strange and tormented lot we are."

Dolly Henry left Currie at the beginning of 1914. He gave a lecture on art at Leeds University soon afterwards. He told Michael Sadleir he was contemplating suicide. He explained that the main sources of his anguish was Dolly faithlessness, and his fear that his period of artistic genius had passed. Sadleir added: "His life was hell. But his love for her was intense."

In March 1914, Dolly agreed to return to Currie and they decided to move to Brittany. However, she returned after a few weeks. Currie explained to Edward Marsh what happened: "She had gone away friendly, but she was very much out of place here. Peasant life made her long for cafes and clubs in London. There are many good things in her, but all mv recent trouble in various ways might have been avoided had she better sense. The emotional and sexual horror and beauty of the whole damned thing - the months of torment and waste of energy, my loss of control, seems like a hell to me now."

Dolly Henry took a flat in Paultons Square, just off the King's Road. When Currie returned to London he heard rumours that Dolly had modelled for pornographic photographs and was spreading rumours about him in an attempt to ruin his career. Currie wrote to Dolly: "A very fury of remorse and love and sorrow is raging in me. I blame myself for everything. I am over-whelmed with self-disgust... As the days go on the feeling of all I have lost in you becomes so frightful I cannot breathe. I am looking for a place I can bury my heart and forget."

On 8th October 1914, Currie murdered Dolly Henry. The Times reported the following day. "A young woman, whose name is said to be Dorothy or Eileen Henry, was found fatally shot in a house in Chelsea... At a quarter to eight yesterday morning shots and screams were heard. The other occupants of the house ran upstairs and found the woman on the landing in her nightdress bleeding from wounds. In the bedroom a man partly dressed was discovered with wounds in the chest. He was taken to Chelsea infirmary, but the woman died before the arrival of a doctor." Currie died three days later. His final words were: "It was all so ugly".

Michael Sadleir later wrote: "Dolly drove Currie mad, and deprived the world of a genuine artist and a devoted worker. He was a man who, had circumstances been a little kinder, would have made a great reputation and lived a full an happy life."


Lapetitechou said...

This article is offensive, Dolly Henry was a much loved daughter, sister and aunt who has not been forgotten by her family. Far from stupid and uneducated, she came from a solid lower middle class background, not that it should matter. To venerate a man who left his wife and child and then abused, harrassed and murdered a young woman is disgusting. To then state that she deprived the world of a great artist is totally vile. John Currie denied a religious young women her right to a last act of contrition. Thank goodness we know enough about this to be able to defend her honour today.

NBina said...

It's good to see that Dolly is well remembered by others as opposed to the detractors who supported John Currie. My interest in extremely personal and I would be most grateful for any more information you have about her.

Rob said...

As no-one among her contemporaries ( artists and others) seem to have a good word to say about Miss Henry, I think it's unlikely that there is some sort of conspiracy to blacken her name unjustifiably. Her main fault was that she failed to understand the central importance to Currie of his art. If she was jealous of it, then this attitude reveals a selfish, empty-headed attitude, and the fact that she was loved by her family doesn't alter this fact.Her stupidity did lead to her own death and also that of Currie , who possessed a talent that she was ill equipped to appreciate.