Remembering Leonora Carrington, the Surrealist Woman

Remembering Leonora Carrington, the Surrealist Woman

Leonora Carrington was an English-born Mexican surrealist painter and novelist born April 6th, 1917. She lived in England, France and Spain but it wasn't until her arrival to Mexico that she became an icon for a whole generation of artists (She was an important member of Surrealist Movement in the 1930s) and an important activist for women's rights: She was a founding member of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico during the 1970s.

Being a natural rebel, she often escaped schools, homes and hospitals and sought refuge in different embassies all around Europe. While in France, she met German surrealist Max Ernst, with whom she shared her work and life for a short while. Ernst was arrested by the germans twice, being the second one by the Nazi party, to which he had no option but to escape to America.

Following these events, Carrington ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Spain where he was given "convulsive therapy" and was treated with the powerful drugs. These events would mark her work deeply, especially her novels, where she would describe her experiences while on these "state-of-art" therapies.

It is said she arranged a fake marriage with Mexico's ambassador and that's how she came to live in Mexico, and frequently, in the United States. She never got to reunite with Ernst.

She died in Mexico City on May 25th, 2011 at age 95.

Leonora Carrington with Max Ernst


Leonora Carrington's work

"I painted for myself...I never believed anyone would exhibit or buy my work."

Even though she was "an accomplished" surrealist, she never quite subscribed to the idea of Freud's surrealism. Her work was far more personal. Where others would interpret feminism as the recognition of the female body, she would recognize her own and her sexuality as a source of inspiration for a greater level of human understanding. Carrington’s work of the 1940s is focused on the underlying theme of women’s role in the creative process.

Self-Portrait (1938) offers insight into Carrington’s interest in the ‘alchemical transformation of matter and her response to the Surrealist cult of desire as a source of creative inspiration.’ The hyena depicted joins both male and female into a whole, metaphoric of the worlds of the night and the dream.

The first important exhibition of her work appeared in 1947, at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York City. Carrington was invited to show her work in an international exhibition of Surrealism, where she was the only female English professional painter. She became a celebrity almost overnight. In Mexico, she authored and successfully published several books.

The first major exhibition of her work in UK for twenty years took place at Chichester's Pallant House Gallery, West Sussex, from 17 June to 12 September 2010, as part of a season of major international exhibitions called Surreal Friends that celebrated women's role in the Surrealist movement. Her work was exhibited alongside pieces by her close friends, the Spanish painter Remedios Varo (1908–1963) and the Hungarian photographer Kati Horna (1912–2000).

In 2013, Carrington was the subject of a major retrospective at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. Titled The Celtic Surrealist, it was curated by Sean Kissane and examined Carrington's Irish background to illuminate many cultural, political and mythological themes present in her work.[27]

Carrington's art often depicts horses, as in her Self-Portrait (Inn of the Dawn Horse) and the painting The Horses of Lord Candlestick. Her fascination with drawing horses began in her childhood. Horses also appear in her writings. In her first published short story, "The House of Fear", Carrington portrays a horse in the role of a psychic guide to a young heroine. In 1935, Carrington's first essay, "Jezzamathatics or Introduction to the Wonderful Process of Painting", was published before her story "The Seventh Horse". Carrington often used codes of words to dictate interpretation in her artwork. "Candlestick" is a code that she commonly used to represent her family, and the word "lord" for her father.

El Juglar

In 2005, Christie's auctioned Carrington's Juggler (El Juglar), and the realised price was US$713,000, setting a new record for the highest price paid at auction for a living surrealist painter.

In 2015, Leonora Carrington was honoured through a Google doodle commemorating her 98th birthday. The doodle was based on her painting, How Doth the Little Crocodile, drawn in surrealist style. The painting was inspired by a poem in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and this painting was eventually turned into Cocodrilo located on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City.

Her legacy was later carried by other female artists, Frida Kahlo included, who fought for the rightful place of women in arts and in everyday life. 

Her work is very extensive, more you can check some of them in the gallery below! 

Published on: April 2016