6 April 1917|
Clayton-le-Woods, Lancashire, England, UK
|Died||25 May 2011
Mexico City, Mexico
|Children||Gabriel and Pablo Weisz|
Leonora Carrington OBE (6 April 1917 – 25 May 2011) was an English-born Mexican artist, surrealist painter, and novelist. She lived most of her adult life in Mexico City, and was one of the last surviving participants in the Surrealist movement of the 1930s. Leonora Carrington was also a founding member of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico during the 1970s.
Carrington was born in Clayton Green, Chorley, Lancashire, England. Her father was a wealthy textile manufacturer, and her mother, Maureen (née Moorhead), was Irish. She had three brothers: Patrick, Gerald, and Arthur.
Educated by governesses, tutors, and nuns, she was expelled from two schools, including New Hall School, Chelmsford, for her rebellious behaviour, until her family sent her to Florence, where she attended Mrs Penrose's Academy of Art. In 1927, at the age of ten, she saw her first Surrealist painting in a Left Bank gallery in Paris and later met many Surrealists, including Paul Éluard. Her father opposed her career as an artist, but her mother encouraged her. She returned to England and was presented at Court, but according to her, she brought a copy of Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza (1936) to read instead. In 1935, she attended the Chelsea School of Art in London for one year, and with the help of her father's friend Serge Chermayeff, she was able to transfer to Ozenfant Academy in London (1935–38).
She became familiar with Surrealism from a copy of Herbert Read's book, Surrealism (1936), which was given to her by her mother, but she received little encouragement from her family to forge an artistic career. The Surrealist poet and patron Edward James was the champion of her work in Britain; James bought many of her paintings and arranged a show in 1947 for her work at Pierre Matisse's Gallery in New York. Some works are still hanging at James' former family home, currently West Dean College in West Dean, West Sussex. When she returned to Britain, she enrolled in the art school established by the French modernist Amédée Ozenfant.
Association with Max Ernst
In 1936, Leonora saw the work of the German surrealist Max Ernst at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London and was attracted to the Surrealist artist before she even met him. In 1937, Carrington met Ernst at a party held in London. The artists bonded and returned together to Paris, where Ernst promptly separated from his wife. In 1938, leaving Paris, they settled in Saint Martin d'Ardèche in southern France. The new couple collaborated and supported each other's artistic development. The two artists created sculptures of guardian animals (Ernst created his birds and Carrington created a plaster horse head) to decorate their home in Saint Martin d'Ardèche. In 1939, Carrington painted a portrait of Max Ernst, as a tribute to their relationship. The portrait was her first Surrealist work, and it was called "The Inn of the Dawn". It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The person in the painting is a cross between a male and a female, who is seated in a room with a rocking horse on the wall. Carrington had an interest in animals, myth, and symbolism. This interest became stronger when she moved to Mexico and started a relationship with the émigré Spanish artist Remedios Varo. The two studied alchemy, the kabbalah, and the post-classic Mayan mystical writings, Popol Vuh.
With the outbreak of World War II Ernst, who was German, was arrested by the French authorities for being a "hostile alien". With the intercession of Paul Éluard, and other friends, including the American journalist Varian Fry, he was discharged a few weeks later. Soon after the Nazis invaded France, Ernst was arrested again, this time by the Gestapo, because his art was considered by the Nazis to be "degenerate". He managed to escape and, leaving Carrington behind, fled to America with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, who was a sponsor of the arts.
After Ernst's arrest, Carrington was devastated and fled to Spain. Paralyzing anxiety and growing delusions culminated in a final breakdown at the British Embassy in Madrid. Her parents intervened and had her hospitalised. She was given "convulsive therapy" and was treated with the drugs cardiazol, a powerful anxiolytic drug (eventually banned by some authorities, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)), and Luminal, a barbiturate. After being released into the care of a nurse who took her to Lisbon, Carrington ran away and sought refuge in the Mexican Embassy. Meanwhile, Ernst had married Peggy Guggenheim in New York in 1941. That marriage ended a few years later. Ernst and Carrington never resumed their relationship.
Three years after being released from the asylum and with the encouragement of André Breton, Carrington wrote about her psychotic experience in her novel Down Below. In this, she explained how she had a nervous breakdown, didn't want to eat, and left Spain. This is where she was imprisoned in an asylum. She illustrates all that was done to her; ruthless institutional therapies, sexual assault, hallucinatory drugs, and unsanitary conditions. It has been suggested that the events of the book should not be taken literally, given Carrington's state at the time of her institutionalization; however, recent authors have sought to examine the details of her institution in order to discredit this theory. She also created art to depict her experience, such as her Portrait of Dr. Morales and Map of Down Below.
Following the escape to Lisbon, Carrington arranged passage out of Europe with Renato Leduc, a Mexican Ambassador. Leduc was a friend of Pablo Picasso, and agreed to a marriage of convenience with Carrington so that she would be allowed to cross the Maginot line due to the diplomatic immunity accorded to a diplomat's wife. Leduc spirited Carrington away to Mexico, which she grew to love and where she lived, on and off, for the rest of her life. The pair divorced in 1943. Events from this period continued to inform her work.
After spending part of the 1960s in New York City, Carrington lived and worked in Mexico once again. While in Mexico, she was asked, in 1963, to create a mural which she named El Mundo Magico de los Mayas, and which was influenced by folk stories from the region. The mural is now located in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.
Carrington designed Mujeres conciencia (1973), a poster, for the Women's Liberation movement in Mexico, depicting a ‘new eve’. Carrington, personally and primarily focused on psychic freedom, understood that such freedom could not be achieved until political freedom is also accomplished. Through these beliefs, Carrington understood that “greater cooperation and sharing of knowledge between politically active women in Mexico and North America” was important for emancipation. Carrington’s political commitment led to her winning the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Women’s Caucus for Art convention in New York in 1986.
I didn't have time to be anyone's muse... I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.— Leonora Carrington
Second marriage and children
She later married Emerico Weisz (nickname "Chiki"), born in Hungary 1911, a photographer and the darkroom manager for Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War. They had two sons: Gabriel, an intellectual and a poet, and Pablo, a doctor and Surrealist artist. Chiki Weisz died January 17, 2007, at home. He was 97 years old.
Themes and major works
Carrington stated that: "I painted for myself...I never believed anyone would exhibit or buy my work." She was not interested in the writings of Sigmund Freud, as were other Surrealists in the movement. She instead focused on magical realism and alchemy and used autobiographical detail and symbolism as the subjects of her paintings. Carrington was interested in presenting female sexuality as she experienced it, rather than as that of male surrealists’ characterization of female sexuality. Carrington’s work of the 1940s is focused on the underlying theme of women’s role in the creative process.
In Self-Portrait (1938), Carrington offers her own interpretation of female sexuality by looking toward her own sexual reality rather than theorizing on the subject, as was custom by other Surrealists in the movement. Carrington’s move away from the characterization of female sexuality subverted the traditional male role of the Surrealist movement. Self-Portrait (1938) also 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 in Self-Portrait (1938) joins both male and female into a whole, metaphoric of the worlds of the night and the dream. The symbol of the hyena is present in many of Carrington's later works, and it was even used to depict Carrington in Max Ernst's work "La Debutante" in his book The Oval Lady.
Her book The Hearing Trumpet deals with aging and the female body. It follows the story of older women who, in the words of Madeleine Cottenet-Hage in her essay "The Body Subversive: Corporeal Imagery in Carrington, Prassinos and Mansour", seek to destroy the institutions of their imaginative society to usher in a "spirit of sisterhood." The Hearing Trumpet also criticizes the shaming of the nude female body, and it is believed to be one of the first books to tackle the notion of gender identity in the twenty-first century. Carrington's views of sexuality, however, differ from contemporary feminists in that she sees maternity as a key experience to femininity. Carrington stated, "We, women, are animals conditioned by maternity.... For female animals love-making, which is followed by the great drama of the birth of a new animal, pushes us into the depths of the biological cave."
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.
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.
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. Carrington painted portraits of the telenovela actor Enrique Álvarez Félix, son of actress María Félix, a friend of Carrington's first husband.
In 2015, 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.
- 2017: Mad About Surrealism, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Netherlands, Rotterdam
- 2017: Surrealist Women, Mayoral, Barcelona, Spain, Barcelona 
- 2016: Monstruosismos, Museo de Arte Moderno de Ciudad de México, Mexico, Bosque de Chapultepec
- 2016: Surreal Encounters. Collecting the Marvellous, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, UK, Edinburgh
- 2016: Dalí, Ernst, Miró, Magritte ... : Surreal Encounters from the Collections Edward James, Roland Penrose
- 2016: Gabrielle Keiller, Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany, Hamburg
- 2016: Artists and Lovers, Ordovas Gallery, London, UK, Mayfair
- 2016: Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, Royal West Of England Academy, UK, Bristol
- 2016: Leonora Carrington: The Last Tuesday Society & Viktor Wynd's Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History. Hackney, London, September – December 2016
- 2015: Leonora Carrington: Tate Liverpool, 6 March – 31 May 2015
- 2015: Surrealism and Magic, Boca Raton Museum of Art, USA, Boca Raton
- 2015: Kahlo, Rivera & Mexican Modern Art, NSU Art Museum, Fort Lauderdale, USA, Ft. Lauderdale
- 2015: Mexico: Fantastic Identity. 20th Century Masterpieces from the FEMSA Collection, Museum of Latin American Art, USA, Long Beach 
- 2015: Lorna Otero Project Album of Family, Miami, The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University, USA, Downtown Miami
- 2015:Surrealism: The Conjured Life, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago, USA, Near North Side
- 2015: Fields of Dream: The Surrealist Landscape, Di Donna, USA, Upper East Side
- 2014: Surrealism and Magic, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, USA, Ithaca
- 2014: Paper, Pencil & Ink: Prints & Other Works on Paper, Ruiz-Healy Art, USA, San Antonio
- 2013: Max Ernst, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland, Basel
- 2013–2014: Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland (solo)
- 2012: In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, Los Angeles 
- 2012: County Museum of Art, USA, Park La Brea
- 2011:Exultation: Sex, Death and Madness in Eight Surrealist Masterworks, Wendi Norris Gallery, USA, Union Square
- 2011: The Colour of My Dreams The Surrealist Revolution in Art, Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada, Vancouver
- 2011: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly?, Museum of Latin American Art, USA, Long Beach
- 2011: Night Scented Stock, Marianne Boesky Gallery, 118 East 64th Street, USA, Upper East Side
- 2011: Leonora Carrington & Tilly Losch, Viktor Wynd Fine Art Inc
- 2010: Surreal Friends, Pallant House Gallery, UK, Chichester
- 2010: Divine Comedy, Sotheby's New York, USA, Upper East Side
- 2009: Latitudes: Latin American Masters from the Femsa Collection, The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, USA, Santa Ana
- 2009: Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism, Manchester Art Gallery, UK, Manchester
- 2008: Arte Americas The Latin American Art Fair, Tresart, USA, Coral Gables 
- 2008: Works from the Natasha and Jacques Gelman Collection of Modern Mexican Art, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Ireland, Dublin
- 2008: Talismanic Lens, Frey Norris Gallery, San Francisco, CA (solo)
- 2007: Surrealism: Dreams on Canvas, Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, NY
- 2003: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and 20th Century Mexican Art: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago, IL
- 2001–2002: Surrealism: Desire Unbound, The Tate, London, England and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
- 1999: Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism and Self-Representation, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Surrealism: Two Private Eyes/The Nesuhi Ertegun and Daniel Filipacchi Collections, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
- 1993: Regards des Femmes, Musée d'Art Moderne, Lieja, France
Sujeto-Objeto, Museo Regional de Guanajuato, Guanajuato y Museo de Monterrey, Moneterrey, Mexico
- 1991: Galería de Arte del Auropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México, Mexico City, Mexico (solo)
Serpentine Gallery, London, England (solo) Sainsbury, Norwich, England (solo) Arnolfini, Bristol, England (solo) The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA (solo)
- 1990: Art Company, Leeds, England (solo)
Brewster Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
- 1989: Museo Nacional de la Estampa, INBA, Mexico (solo)
- 1987: Brewster Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
Art Space Mirage, Tokyo, Japan (solo) Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
- 1976: Leonora Carrington : a retrospective exhibition, Center for Inter-American Relations, New York City 
- 1976: Leonora Carrington : a retrospective exhibition, University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin 
- 1970: Impressionism to Surrealism, Worthing Art Gallery, Worthing, England
- 1969: The Surrealists, Byron Gallery, New York, NY
Galerie Pierre, Paris, France (solo) Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Sala Nacional, Mexico (solo) Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Mexico (solo) Galería de Arte Mexicano, Mexico City, Mexico (solo)
- 1968: Artistas Británicos en México 1800/1968, Instituto Anglo-Mexicano de Cultura, Mexico
- 1967: IX Bienal de Pintura, São Paulo, Brazil
- 1966: Surrealism: A State of Mind, Universidad de California, Santa Barbara, CA
Surrealismo y Arte Fantástico en México, Galeria Universitaria, Aristos, Mexico 1965: Galería Antonio Souza, Mexico City, Mexico (solo) Instituto Cultural Anglo-Mexicano, Mexico (solo) Galería Clardecor, Mexico City, Mexico (solo)
- 1963: Pinturas de la colección de Edward James, Worthing Art Gallery, Worthing, England
- 1961: El Retrato Mexicano Contemporáneo, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico
- 1959: Eros Galerie, Daniel Cordier, Paris, France
- 1956: Galería de Arte Mexicano, Mexico City, Mexico (solo)
- 1943: Exposición de 31 mujeres artistas, Arte de este siglo, New York, NY
First Papers of Surrealism, Madison Avenue Gallery, New York, NY 20th Century Portraits, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
- 1942: Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
- 1938: Esposition du Surréalisme, Galerie Robert, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Galerie Beaux-Arts, Paris, France 
- La Maison de la Peur, H. Parisot, 1938 – with illustrations by Max Ernst
- Une chemise de nuit de flanelle, Libr. Les Pas Perdus, 1951
- El Mundo Mágico de Los Mayas, Museo Nacional de Antropología, 1964 – illustrated by Leonora Carrington
- The Oval Lady: Surreal Stories (Capra Press, 1975)
- The Hearing Trumpet (Routledge, 1976); Penguin Books, Limited, 2005, ISBN 9780141187990
- The Stone Door (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977)
- The Seventh Horse and Other Tales (Dutton, 1988)
- The House of Fear (Trans. K. Talbot and M. Warner. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1988)
- Down Below (Dutton, 1988)
- The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Dorothy, a publishing project, 2017. Introduction by Kathryn Davis)
- Self-Portrait (Inn of the Dawn Horse), 1936–1937, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection
- Portrait of Max Ernst, 1939 (private collection)
- The Horses of Lord Candlestick, 1938 (private collection)
- The Meal of Lord Candlestick, 1938
- The Inn of the Dawn Horse (Self-Portrait), 1939 (first major Surrealist work) Metropolitan Museum of Art
- The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1947, Museo del Prado, Madrid
- The Memory Tower, 1995, The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, London
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- Portrait of Enrique Alvarez Félix by Leonora Carrington
- Portrait of Enrique dedicated to his mother
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- Dos Surrealistas en México, 15 January 2006
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