Leonora Carrington (6 April 1917 – 25 May 2011)
was a British-born Mexican artist, a surrealist painter and a novelist. She lived most of her life in Mexico City. Carrington was born in Clayton Green, Chorley, Lancashire, England. Her father was a wealthy textile manufacturer; her mother, Maureen Moorhead, was Irish. She also had an Irish nanny, Mary Cavanaugh, who told her Gaelic tales. Leonora 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 behavior until her family sent her to Florence where she attended Mrs. Penrose's Academy of Art. Her father was opposed to an artist's career for her, but her mother encouraged her. Otherwise, Leonora Carrington found little encouragement from her family to forge an artistic career.
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 but thanks to her father's friend Serge Chermayeff, she was able to transfer to the Ozenfant Academy in London from 1935-1938.
She saw her first Surrealist painting in a Left Bank gallery in 1927 (when she was ten years old) and met many Surrealists, including Paul Éluard. She became familiar with Surrealism from a copy of Herbert Read's book 'Surrealism' (1936) that her mother gave her. Matthew Gale, curator at Tate Modern, singled out Surrealist poet and patron Edward James as the only champion of her work in Britain. James bought many of her paintings, and in 1947 arranged a show for her work at Pierre Matisse's Gallery in New York. Some works are still hanging at his former family home, now West Dean College in West Dean, West Sussex.
Carrington saw Max Ernst's work in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London, and was immediately attracted to the Surrealist artist before actually meeting him.
She met Ernst at a party in London in 1937. The artists bonded and returned together to Paris, where Ernst promptly separated from his wife. In 1938 they left Paris and settled in Saint Martin d'Ardèche in the south of France. The new couple collaborated and supported each other's artistic development. It has been noted that these two artists collaborated together and created sculptures of guardian animals to decorate their home with in St. Martin d'Ardeche; Ernst created his birds and Carrington created a plaster horse head. In 1939, Carrington painted Portrait of Max Ernst as a tribute to their relationship.
With the outbreak of World War II, Ernst was arrested by French authorities for being a "hostile alien." Thanks to the intercession of Paul Éluard, and other friends including the American journalist Varian Fry, he was discharged a few weeks later.
Soon after the Nazi occupation of France, Ernst was arrested again, this time by the Gestapo. He managed to escape and flee to America with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, a sponsor of the arts. After Ernst's arrest, a devastated Carrington 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 institutionalized. She was given "convulsive therapy" with cardiazol, a powerful anxiogenic drug that was eventually banned by some authorities, for instance U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition to Cardiazol, she was also given Barbiturate Luminal.
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 been extricated from Europe with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, whom he married in 1941. Ernst and Carrington had experienced so much misery that they were unable to reconnect.
Three years after being released and after experiencing living in the asylum, Carrington wrote down the events of her psychotic experience in her novel Down Below. She also looked to creating art to depict her experience as can be seen in her Portrait of Dr. Morales and Map of Down Below. It was thanks to a fellow surrealist artist named Andre Breton who encouraged Carrington to create and write her novel Down Below so that her experience could be a reference of inspiration to other artists.
Following the escape to Lisbon, Carrington arranged passage out of Europe with Renato Leduc, a Mexican Ambassador who was a friend of Picasso and who had agreed to marry Carrington as part of the travel arrangements to help her. Events from that period would inform her work perhaps forever. She lived and worked in Mexico after spending part of the 1960s in New York City.
While in Mexico she was asked to create a mural which she titled El Mundo Magico de los Mayas in 1963 that was influenced from traditional heritage stories within the region she lived.
In Mexico she later married Emericko Weisz. They had two sons: Gabriel Weisz, an intellectual and a poet, and Pablo Weisz, a surrealist artist and doctor.
The first important exhibition of her work appeared in 1947 at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York City. Leonora 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 has successfully published several books. The first major exhibition of her work in the 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, celebrating the place of women 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 Carrington's artwork one can see her depiction of horses within her Self-Portrait (Inn of the Dawn Horse) or within her painting The Horses of Lord Candlestick. During her childhood, Carrington's fascination with drawing horses was even prevalent. She also incorporates the use of horses in her writings as well. Within her first published short story, The House of Fear, Carrington places the horse in the role of a psychic guide to a young heroine. 1n 1935, before The Seventh Horse was published, Carrington's first essay Jezzamathatics or Introduction to the Wonderful Process of Painting was published. In addition to her enjoyment of depicting horses and writing, Carrington also commonly used code words to dictate meaning to her artwork such as the code work Candlestick she commonly used for her family, and the word lord for her father.
Carrington was one of the last living Surrealist painters of her era. In 2005, Christie's auctioned Carrington's "Juggler". The realized price was US$713,000, which set a new record for the highest price paid at auction for a living surrealist painter.
Leonora Carrington died in Mexico City on Wednesday May 25, 2011, while hospitalized due to complications from pneumonia.
Color lithograph on Arches 1974 I/XIX
26 x 19 1/2 inches (66.0 x 49.5cm)