Leonora Carrington, muse of the surreal of two continents

Leonora Carrington. Art 110.
Leonora Carrington. Art 110.

Leonora Carrington (1917–2011). In Russia she is mainly remembered as one of Max Ernst’s friends, while in the world she is glorified both as an outstanding master and theorist of surrealism, and as one of the significant figures of world feminism. The “Women’s Awareness” poster she created in 1973 now occupies an important place in the iconography of the women’s movement.

And then we saw the daughter of the Minotaur.
And then we saw the daughter of the Minotaur.

The daughter of a leading textile manufacturer, Leonora Carrington was twice expelled from exclusive schools for rebellious behavior until her family sent her to Florence, where she attended Mrs. Penrose’s Academy of Art, an educational institution for wealthy foreigners.

According to Leonora, at the age of 10, while traveling with her father, she first saw a surrealist painting in a gallery in Paris, and then communicated with surrealists, including Paul Eluard.

Inn Horse of the Dawn (Self portrait).
Inn Horse of the Dawn (Self portrait).
Green tea.
Green tea.

In 1936, she came across a book about surrealism that contained a drawing by Max Ernst. This made such a strong impression on her that she wanted to create art in this style.

A year later, she was invited to a dinner party where Max Ernst was the main guest. They were immediately attracted to each other, and after a short correspondence she left Great Britain for Paris to live with Ernst. Here is one of her earliest surrealist works. The toy horse was Ernst’s first gift to his beloved, who was 27 years younger than him.

Temptation of Saint Anthony.
Temptation of Saint Anthony.
Max Ernst.
Max Ernst.

This is a key work from Carrington’s early period. It was made in a villa near Marseille, where he and Max worked fruitfully until the outbreak of World War II.

The couple’s calm and happy life lasted only a year. In 1939, Ernst was arrested by the French authorities as an “undesirable foreigner,” and then, after the Nazi occupation of France, he was taken into circulation by the Gestapo as the author of “degenerate art.”

There below.
There below.

Max fled to the United States with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, his new girlfriend, sponsor and future short-lived wife. Leonora, without waiting for her beloved, left for Spain, where she fell into severe depression, accompanied by convulsions and refusal to eat. Her family placed her in an asylum, where she was treated with barbiturates and Luminal. The experience of a nervous breakdown and harsh treatment is reflected in this picture and the surreal novel of the same name (Down Below).

According to her autobiography, her father sent a nanny and bodyguards for her, hiring a submarine for this purpose (!). But Leonora eluded both them and the orderlies. She managed to escape from the hospital, followed by a romantic escape with a fictitious husband through Portugal and the United States to Mexico, which at that time became a haven for many persecuted European intellectuals.

Farewell, Amenhotep.
Farewell, Amenhotep.

In Mexico, Carrington became deeply interested in esotericism, alchemy, magic, and Celtic mythology. She shared her studies with another exile, Remedios Varo (about her, see earlier in the section SURREALISM WITHOUT BORDERS). This picture comprehends the history of the Merovingian king of the 7th century. Dagobert II, sent into exile in Ireland, where he married a Celtic princess.

In 1947, she married Emerico Weiss, nicknamed “Chicky,” a Hungarian photographer and international brigade member who fled to Mexico during the Spanish Civil War. She will live with Chiki until his death at the age of 97.

Are you serious.
Are you serious.

In numerous paintings and literary works of the 1950-70s. Carrington emerges as a pioneer of ecofeminism, exploring gender positions in an environmental context. In her view, what is at stake in the 20th century is the power relations between the sexes that influence animal, plant and mineral life on the planet.

Her ideas of a woman’s psychic and mental freedom as the highest point of her liberation are still highly valued by the most radical feminists.

Since the 1980s, Carrington began creating bronze sculptures, mainly thematically related to the confrontation between old age and death.

A well deserved bath for Rabbi Lev.
A well deserved bath for Rabbi Lev.

She died in May 2011 at the age of 94. Leonora Carrington’s house in Mexico City, at 194 Chihuahua Street (Casona Leonora Carrington), where the artist lived for more than 60 years, is planned to be converted into a house-museum-studio. Leonora lived there until the day of her death, so the house also protects the artist’s personal life. Personal photographs, including those of children, hang on its walls. The opening of the house-museum was promised in 2021 and 2022, but its doors are still closed.

But there are two Leonora Carrington museums in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi: one in the state capital of the same name, in the building of a former prison of the 19th century, where the San Luis Potosi Arts Center is now located. And the second is in the ancient picturesque town of Xilitla, famous for the Surreal Garden of Las Pozas. Here, next to Leonora’s sculptures and lithographs, there is an exhibition hall that gives preference to surrealist creativity.

Guides of oversouls.
Guides of oversouls.
Leonora Carrington Fantastic figures on horses.
Fantastic figures on horses.
Leonora Carrington Mujeres conciencia (Women's Awareness), propaganda poster for the Mexican Women's Liberation Movement.
Mujeres conciencia (Women’s Awareness), propaganda poster for the Mexican Women’s Liberation Movement.
Leonora Carrington Entrance to the San Luis Potosi Arts Center with the Leonora Carrington Museum.
Entrance to the San Luis Potosi Arts Center with the Leonora Carrington Museum.
Leonora Carrington Great farewell.
Great farewell.
Leonora Carrington Inventor of the atol, bronze sculpture at the Querétaro Art Center.
Inventor of the atol, bronze sculpture at the Querétaro Art Center.
Leonora Carrington Boat of Herons (composition in the central courtyard of the Leonora Carrington Museum at the Art Center of the Mexican city of San Luis Potosi).
Boat of Herons (composition in the central courtyard of the Leonora Carrington Museum at the Art Center of the Mexican city of San Luis Potosi).
Leonora Carrington Race race.
Race race.
Leonora Carrington, The Old Maids.
Leonora Carrington, The Old Maids.
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