Creatures and Dreamscapes: Surrealist Leonora Carrington

Katherine20th Century Art, Artist Spotlight, Contemporary / Modern ArtLeave a Comment

Artist Leonora Carrington

There were some who wanted Leonora Carrington to be a muse. Her adventurous spirit and distinct appearance attracted important friends in the art community, but she was not intimidated by any of them. Painter Joan Miró once handed her some money and requested that she fetch him cigarettes. Carrington handed it back and told him to buy his own. She would not be content with simply being a muse.

"Eluhim" in the Tate Modern Collection

“Eluhim” in the Tate Modern Collection

Leonora Carrington was a Surrealist writer, sculptor, and painter whose works were richly saturated in mythology, alchemy, and the occult. Animals were a major element in her works. Humans become animals and animals bend and transform into magical beings. Puns and word play are sometimes found in the titles of her pieces. As a girl, she was fascinated with the fantastic. Her Irish nanny regaled her with tales of Gaelic heroes and fairy tale creatures.

Born in 1917 to a British industrialist and an Irish mother, her family had hoped that she would be a debutante and not an artist. However, her rich imagination inspired her to go her own way. School proved to be unsatisfying – she was expelled several times.

In 1937, Carrington met Max Ernst, who she considered her greatest teacher of Surrealism.

The Surrealist movement sought to explore the subconscious mind through poetry and art.  Tradition breaking Dadaists, Karl Marx, and Freud’s dream symbolism all served as initial inspiration. The movement began in the late 1910s. Poets began to practice automatic writing as a way to free themselves from restraints. Artists did not adopt the ideals of Surrealism until later. Many felt that visual mediums had little room for the kind of spontaneity that writing allowed. The first of these Surrealist artists such as Joan Miró and Man Ray, all found ways to translate the automaticism of Surrealism in their own works. This created the distinct style that we recognize today.

Despite the lack of respect held for women Surrealists, Ernst encouraged Carrington’s work and introduced her to fellow artists such as Picasso and Dali. Ernst quickly left his wife for Carrington and the two lived together for some time.

World War II scattered the Surrealists. Ernst was imprisoned in an internment camp and Carrington escaped to Spain, where she suffered from a break down and was admitted into a mental institution. She found passage out of Europe by briefly wedding Mexican writer, Renato Leduc.

She found her home in Mexico. Once dubbed as “surrealist country,” Leonora Carrington met other like-minded artists and was absorbed in Mexico’s rich culture and love for colorful and at times macabre masks and costumes. She became a Mexican citizen and lived in Mexico City for the rest of her life. Some of her sculptures, such as How Doth the Little Crocodile, are on public display in several parts of Mexico City.  

Leonora Carrington blended multiple influences into her captivating dreamscapes and inventive creatures. Intriguing and thoughtful, her works still fascinate. She passed away in 2011, the last living connection to the original Surrealists.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.

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