Leonora Carrington: Biography, Contributions And Works

Leonora Carrington (1917 – 2011) was a prominent English artist who lived most of her adult life in Mexico City. She was known for leaning toward the artistic trend of surrealism, making paintings, sculptures, and novels in this style.

In addition, she is considered the last surviving artist of the surrealist movement of the 1930s. Due to her inclination towards the defense of women, she was the founder of the Movement for the Liberation of Women in Mexico during the 1970s.

His compositions and works were characterized by reflecting images of fantasy, magic, witchcraft, the occult and themes related to metamorphosis. From the first years of her life, she was a rebellious and liberal girl, characterized by being different from the others.

Carrington established a love affair for many years with the German surrealist artist Max Ernst. Beyond their emotional relationship, they were co-workers and performed several works together. However, the outbreak of the Second World War made them take different paths.


Early years and youth

Leonora Carrington was born on April 6, 1917 in Clayton Green, Lancashire, England. She grew up in a very wealthy Catholic family, on a property called Crookhey. Her father was a millionaire cloth maker; her mother, Maureen, was from Ireland and a believer in Celtic mythology.

He had three brothers: Patrick, Gerald and Arthur, she being the only girl in the family. She was educated at first by governesses and nuns, having been expelled from two schools for her rebellious behavior.

Finally, her family sent her to boarding school in Florence, Italy, at age 14. It was in this place where she began her painting studies and had access to the best art museums of the time. She attended the Lady Penrose Academy of Art and St. Mary’s Convent School at Ascot.

He had the opportunity to meet surrealist paintings for the first time in one of the galleries in Paris. There he also spoke with several renowned artists of surrealism such as Paul Éluard.

While her father opposed her career as an artist, she managed to gain support from her mother, who actually encouraged her to continue. His mother gave him the copy of Herbert Read’s book, Surrealism .

Beginnings in his artistic career

In 1935, he attended the School of Art in Chelsea, England, and with the help of a friend, he transferred to the Ozenfant Academy in London. The following year, the German painter Max Ernst introduced her to the surrealist movement, observing her fascination with that artistic style.

Later, after a reunion in the city of Paris, they established a loving relationship. During her stay in France, she had the opportunity to come into contact and live with notable personalities within the field of surrealism: Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

One of his first works was his self-portrait, entitled The Inn of the Dawn Horse , made between 1937 and 1938. This work was one of his first compositions in the surrealist style. It consists of a woman sitting in a room with a horse hanging on the wall.

In addition, he wrote what meant one of his first literary works, entitled The House of Fear, and participated in international exhibitions of surrealism in Paris and Amsterdam. The book was illustrated by her partner and artist Max Ernst. He also wrote other works, such as La dama ovallada in 1938 and El debutante in 1940.

Outbreak of World War II

When the Second World War began, Ernst was arrested in France by the authorities for having German nationality. With the help of several friends of Carrington, Ernst was released.

At the time when the Nazis invaded France, the painter was arrested by the Gestapo (secret police of the Nazis), considering his art an insult to German idealism.

Following those events, he left Carrington and fled to the United States with the help of the American art collector, Peggy Guggenheim. Carrington, upon hearing this, was completely devastated.

The woman moved to Spain, where she was treated for the anxiety attacks she suffered. Her parents had to help her and hospitalize her against her will in a psychiatric hospital in Santander. Apparently, they were hard years full of abuse and bad experiences.

However, she managed to escape from one of the nurses when she was undergoing additional psychiatric treatment. The artist thought of emigrating using as an advantage a marriage of convenience with the Mexican diplomat Renato Leduc. Once in Mexico, she managed to move to New York in 1941.

She spent a year living in the United States, where she continued to write, paint, and meet other exiled Surrealist artists. She was never with Max Ernst again.

Life in mexico

In 1942, she divorced the diplomat and moved back to Mexico. She became a Mexican citizen and settled in Mexico City. Carrington decided to meet with a group of European artists who had also fled to Mexico seeking asylum. Immediately, they made an artistic and creative connection between themselves.

However, it was with the Spanish painter Remedios Varo with whom he forged a close friendship and working relationship; Carrington and Varo had met in Paris before the war.

Some of Carrington’s works between the 1940s and 1950s consisted of groups of women. An example of these is the work entitled Three women around the table , made in 1951.

It is presumed that they are paintings where Remedios Varo, the Mexican photographer Kati Horna and another unknown woman are reflected. Since Carrington arrived in Mexico, she made compositions full of surrealist creativity, which portrayed the metamorphosis.

In 1946, she married the Hungarian photographer Emerico Weisz, with whom she had two children between that same year and the following year.

Compositions related to domesticity and motherhood began to appear in her work, only with shades of magic and sorcery. An example of this were the compositions known as The House Opposite and The Giantess.

Carrington’s fame

From Mexico, Carrington maintained ties with the art world in the United States. In 1947, he organized a solo exhibition of all his work at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York City.

In the early 1960s, he was commissioned to create a mural for the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City that he titled El mundo Mágico de los Mayas . The work was finally completed in 1963.

About 10 years later, the artist published her best-known novel, The Hearing Trumpet , a surreal story of an elderly woman who learns of her family’s plan to commit her to a retirement home. The old woman discovers that the place is full of magical and strange elements.

Last years

In the 1990s, Carrington began creating large bronze sculptures, to be displayed on the streets of Mexico City. Many of them spent a long time in free exhibition for the public.

In 2005, the British artist made history when one of her paintings, Juggler (made in 1954), sold at auction for more than $ 710,000. In fact, it is believed to be the highest price paid for a work by a living surrealist artist.

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, various exhibitions were held in Mexico, the United States, and England with some of his compositions. Leonora Carrington was known for her love for Mexico and lived the rest of her life in the country’s capital.

He passed away on May 25, 2011, at the age of 94. She was buried in the English Pantheon, without the presence of any journalist or photographers. Leonora Carrington was the last famous surrealist artist from Mexico.


Mix between artistic styles

Leonora Carrington was characterized by her surrealist compositions which, like most surrealist painters, were images taken from the unconscious and from dreams. Carrington’s surrealism shaped the traditional style of representing other realities, an absurd, illogical world, with elements of metamorphosis.

As in painting, he adapted surrealism into literature. This was represented by fantastic stories with a predominance of magical themes. In that parallel reality, he exposed the hidden and forbidden thoughts of the human being.

However, Carrington added in his compositions and works a mixture of other artistic movements such as the Renaissance, with touches of medieval alchemy and Jungian psychology (in literature).

During the years he was in Mexico, he developed a tendency in his compositions towards popular art (based on the artisanal and away from the sophisticated).

From his student years, he marveled at medieval art and baroque sculpture, partly because of his curiosity about mythological subjects. In addition, due to its family influence, it included elements of Celtic literature. This type of literature is influenced by medieval and surreal style romance.

Mix of figures

Carrington’s art was characterized by the development of hybrid figures that used to be half human and half animal, beasts, fantastic figures that ranged from the terrifying to the humorous and satirical. This characteristic was seen, most of all, in painting and in her sculptures.

Carrington’s intention was to create different images and figures, which were manifested within a creative world. In addition, she added themes of transformation and identity in a world of constant change.

Different sexual identity

Although one of the characteristics of surrealism is eroticism, Carrington’s work touched on different ideas regarding sexual identity. Over the years, the artist took care to avoid the typical stereotypes that represented women as objects of desire for men.

Unlike this characteristic element of surrealism, Carrington drew on her experiences and friendships to represent her perceptions of women: the links between women of all ages and female figures in male-dominated stories.

Throughout the years, Carrington insisted on the liberation of women from all systems. This was one of her most important artistic causes.


Lord Candlestick’s Food

Lord Candlestick’s Meal was a work by Leonora Carrington that was completed after her flight from England and early in her relationship with artist Max Ernst. In this painting the rebellious spirit and the rejection of Catholic education are captured.

“Candlestick” was the nickname Carrington gave his father. Using this term, the artist criticizes the supervision that her father gave her. In composition, he transforms the Eucharist into an act of barbarism.

Self-portrait in the Albergue del Caballo de Alba

This work was made between 1937 and 1938. It is characterized by being a work that portrays the way of thinking of the artist. She uses animals and plants, these being her main fascinations.

In this work, the artist painted herself sitting in a blue armchair and dressed in men’s clothing, looking at the viewer with a long hair. She extends her hand to a hyena with feminine features that tries to imitate Carrington’s posture and gesture.

Carrington is said to have frequently used hyenas as a representation of herself in art and writing. Apparently, she was attracted to the rebellious spirit and ambiguous sexual characteristics that characterize this animal.

In the background is a galloping white horse, the meaning of which may reflect your free spirit. Analysts claim that the color white could signify her childhood in a field surrounded by the English aristocracy.

Portrait of Max Ernst

The portrait of Max Ernst was made by Leonora Carrington in 1939, as a tribute to her relationship with the surrealist artist of the same name. The artist is in the painting in the foreground, as the protagonist of the work. He is wrapped in a red cape and yellow stockings, holding an opaque lantern.

Again, in this composition, Carrington uses the animals as a reference, mainly the white horse. The horse is looking at Ernst and the two find themselves alone in a cold desert, in a landscape that symbolizes Carrington’s feelings in a France on the brink of conflict.


  1. Leonora Carrington, Portal The Art of Story, (nd). Taken from theartstory.org
  2. Leonora Carrington, Naomi Blumbert, (nd). Taken from britannica.com
  3. Leonora Carrington, brilliant, dreamy and visionary, Portal gob.mx, (nd). Taken from gob.mx
  4. Leonora Carrington, biography, works and painting, Website México Desconocido, (nd). Taken from mexicodesconocido.com.mx
  5. Leonora Carrington, Wikipedia in English, (nd). Taken from wikipedia.org

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