Leonora Carrington (Leonora Carrington)

Leonora Carrington

Artist. One of her generation’s premier Surrealist painters, she also achieved renown as a sculptor and novelist. Born to wealth and high position, she apparently had artistic ambitions from early childhood but was pushed by her father into a conventional education. Though bright, she was possessed of a rebellious nature that led to a succession of convent school expulsions; with her mother’s intervention she was finally able to study painting in Florence, Italy before returning to England where she was forced into the society debut expected of rich girls. After a time at the Chelsea School of Art, Leonora trained with the cubist Amedee Ozenfant, then in 1937 at the home of one of her fellow students met the noted painter Max Ernst (1891-1976). Though she was 19 and Ernst 46 and married, Leonora followed him to Paris where her behavior, typified by attending a high society party naked, proved eccentric even by the loose standards of the Parisian artistic milieu. Her life was complicated by Ernst’s continuing attention to his wife, though she was able to associate with and learn from a cross section of the artistic elite including Salvador Dali, whom she liked, and Pablo Picasso, whom she considered low-class. In 1938, she and Ernst moved to Provence where she continued to refine her painting skills and where she published her first short stories. She produced her first Surrealist painting, the “Self Portrait”, in 1939, but after Ernst was arrested by the French and then the Nazis for creating “degenerate art” Leonora fled to Spain where she endured gang rape and incarceration in an insane asylum. Following her escape, she got to America via the ruse of a sham marriage to a Mexican diplomat; though her work had been shown in New York as early as 1943, she received her first solo exhibit at that city’s Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1947. Over the years her reputation increased, her half-human, half-animal fantasy images more popular in the United States and Mexico than in her native England. Living for the most part in Mexico City, with occasional visits to New York, she continued painting and sculpting works large and small as well as writing. Leonora was to see her pictures in numerous major galleries and was to create a quite large mural entitled “The Magical World of the Maya” as well as numerous outdoor sculptures for her adopted Mexico City. As a writer she produced stories little different in theme from her paintings, her best known works being “The Hearing Trumpet” (1976) and 1988’s “The House of Fear”, in addition to an autobiography entitled “Down Below” (1972, revised 1988). Though her outlook was predominantly Mexican, Leonora never completely lost her English roots, keeping a picture of Princess Di on her kitchen wall and consuming British tea and cigarettes. Indeed, she was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2000. At her death from the complications of pneumonia she held the record for the highest price ever paid for a painting by a living Surrealist. (bio by: Bob Hufford)


  • April, 06, 1917
  • England


  • May, 05, 2011
  • Mexico


  • Cementerio Ingles en México
  • Mexico

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