Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Carrington, Leonora

c. 1938
oil on canvas
65 x 81.3 cm (25 9/16 x 32 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

This painting was virtually unknown until it was shown for the first time at the artist's retrospective exhibition at the Center for Inter-American Relations in New York in 1976. Since then the work has left an unending trail of publicity and commentary, serving as an icon in the growing literature devoted to women surrealist painters. She painted this self-portrait, in the literature also entitled "The Inn of the Dawn Horse," while she lived with the German surrealist painter Max Ernst in the South of France from 1937 until 1940. This work was painted one year before the outbreak of World War II.

Leonora Carrington (1917 - 2011) was a British-born Mexican artist, a surrealist painter and a novelist. Born into an upper class  industrialist family in Lancashire, England, she had spent her childhood in a large country estate, surrounded by animals and devouring fairy tales and Celtic legends and learned at a very early age the injustice of society. Since her parents were both very strict Catholics, they sent her away from convent to convent and then to boarding school. Finally after many rebellious acts and expulsions from school, she succeeded in convincing her parents to let her study art at an academy in London. There she lived on a modest pension from her family and established herself as a painter and a writer.

Carrington saw Max Ernst's work in 1936 in London, and was immediately attracted to him before actually meeting him. At a dinner party in London in 1937, she had met Max Ernst - he was 46 and already married, and followed him to Paris. They then moved to the South where they lived a group of ruined buildings that they had renovated and decorated with mythical animals and birds. The couple lived together until the outbreak of W.W.II when Ernst was taken prisoner as an enemy alien after the French declared war on Germany in 1939. During the years of World War II, she suffered enormously - she had several mental breakdowns, due to her lover Max Ernst's imprisonment in a concentration camp. In 1940, Carrington was reunited with Max Ernst, but he was now in the company of Peggy Guggenheim, the art collector.

Carrington lived in New York after the war, and then moved to Mexico. It was in Mexico that she developed a mature body of work heavily influenced by magic, alchemy, and a lot more of the Celtic tradition. Her female protagonists are like the sorceresses, and priestesses of some ancient religion: their journeys are mythic voyages that unravel like fairy tales.

Carrington has written a myriad of articles, novels, essays, and poems. She has produced thousands of paintings, sculptures, collages, and a number of tapestries. She has also made many public appearances. On in particular, was the women's movement in the early 1970's, where she spoke about women's legendary powers and the need for women to take back the rights that belonged to them all along.
Carrington has passed away at age 94. Part of her life is a sad love story surrounded by passionate art, involving Max Ernst.