Leonora Carrington - Latin America New York Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Worthing Art Gallery, Sussex
    Edward James Foundation, West Sussex
    Christie's, New York, Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, November 21, 1988, lot 28
    Christie's, New York, Modern Paintings and Drawings from the Edward James Collection, November 21, 1989, lot 89
    Private Collection, Europe
    Sotheby's, Paris, Impressionist and Modern Art, December 3, 2008, lot 37
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Pierre Loeb, Leonora Carrington, 1952
    Sussex, Worthington Art Gallery, Impressionism to Surrealism, 1970

  • Catalogue Essay

    This exquisite painting by Leonora Carrington elucidates the artist’s ongoing preoccupation with gender and feminist issues. Moreover, it belongs to an important period within her oeuvre, during which she exhibited some of her most mature works both in Mexico and internationally. This unique and unorthodox Surrealist work, which features Carrington’s characteristic fantastical figures, challenges the viewer both visually and intellectually.

    Carrington was born to a wealthy family; her father, Harold Wild Carrington, was a textile tycoon, who later consolidated his wealth by selling the family company to the Imperial Chemical Industries. At a very early age Leonora, an avid reader, began drawing and writing stories and fables that she learned from her Irish nanny. This kindled Leonora's imagination and exerted an influence she would later reflect in her works. Rather than pursue marriage after being presented as a debutant, Leonora enrolled at the Chelsea School of Art in London despite her parent's strong opposition, who reacted by cutting off her financial support. This drastic change in her lifestyle proved to be a crucial decision, unleashing her potential to become an established Surrealist artist in the international art world.

    Carrington was greatly influenced by the famous Surrealist Max Ernst, whom she met and with whom she later entered into a romantic relationship. Ernst’s influence can especially be seen in her use of the painting technique frottage and her interest in alchemy and fairy tales. Additionally Carrington experimented with automatism and cadavers exquis, which were typical artistic investigation processes of Surrealism. Carrington’s vision of Surrealism depicts a construction of both fantastical and believable worlds, which is an artistic language she shares with other Surrealist artists. Her works portray feminine intellectual aspects as well as spiritual authority, where the occult is of special interest. However, what distinguished her from other Surrealists was her unique approach to the occult which had a feminist perspective that reclaimed for women the central role within the surrealist tradition. Her artistic language - within the orthodox canon of Surrealism -was also unique in that she incorporated fairytale-like imagery into her paintings.

    The outbreak of World War II influenced Carrington’s work as she was only 23 and disowned by her family and her partner, Ernst, was interned repeatedly in concentration camps. As a result, Carrington suffered from a brief mental breakdown. Afterwards, Carrington published an account of her time spent at a mental asylum in Spain entitled Down Below. Ironically, this publication gave her much more notoriety amongst the Surrealist artists. Bretón and other Surrealists had always been interested in madness and other mental states so this account portrayed Carrington as though she was coming from the ‘other side’, which purportedly gave her a visionary power that she could incorporate into her works.

    After such a traumatic event in Spain, Carrington ended her relationship with Ernst and emigrated to Mexico. Although she was still emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, Mexico provided her the opportunity to change her life and re-focus on her work. Carrington quickly became a part of a Mexican community of renowned writers, actors and painters and her work was acquired by many Mexican collectors. She was deeply impressed by Mexico’s markets, the intermingling of the Spanish colonial heritage with the indigenous culture and the religious syncretism, all of which were powerful catalysts that prompted Carrington to mix elements from different cultures in her work. Her works now took a new direction, reflected in the complexity of her iconography. During this time she produced some of her most complex and mature works, which would be exhibited internationally and well received. Carrington participated in two very important exhibitions at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in 1948: she had a one-person show exhibiting 27 works and later that same year participated in a group show where she was the only female artist. Her iconography began reflecting the concept of transubstantiation in the Catholic mass and the Saints, and later she began inserting symbols from different religions to subvert orthodox Catholicism. She also depicted the hybrid, syncretic Catholicism that she saw in both the public and private domestic Mexican spheres, which incorporated elements from the Western European and indigenous cultures as related to religion. This was a time when she started experimenting with new techniques, such as the medieval egg on tempera which gave her palette a jewel-like tonality. She meticulously dedicated herself to perfecting her draftsmanship, which resulted over time in ever more complex compositions.

    During this time Carrington gave birth to her two sons so in addition to being a recognized artist she was also fully dedicated to being a mother and running a household. Interestingly enough, in some ways this reinforced her feminist discourse and she was constantly exploring the “transformation of the feminine domestic sphere into a site of magical power” (Susan L. Aberth, Leonora Carrington – Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, 2010, p. 64). She began an extensive exploration of mythological and esoteric traditions to incorporate certain symbols into her work in order to heighten the domestic and quotidian to the realm of the sacred, exemplified by the present lot, which depicts a woman surrounded by bat-like figures or "bat-men" as Carrington herself describes them in a somewhat satirical manner. Pictorially, Carrington would often paint women like the one in this painting in vibrant colors with very elongated bodies. More importantly, this work continues to provide us with fairytale- like, extraordinary personages that define her unique brand of Surrealism.

  • Artist Biography

    Leonora Carrington

    British / Mexican • 1917 - 2011

    At the core of Leonora Carrington's Surrealist oeuvre is a preoccupation with gender and feminist issues. Born to a wealthy family in Lancashire, England, Carrington demonstrated an interest in art at a young age and enrolled at Chelsea School of Art in London. Carrington first became interested in Surrealism after having attended the 1939 International Surrealist Exhibition, and later entered into a relationship with German Surrealist painter Max Ernst.

    Like many European intellectuals and artists, Carrington fled war-torn Europe and settled in Mexico where she was greatly influenced by the cultural and religious syncretism. Carrington's unique Surrealist aesthetic is one that often features females as the central figure and includes fairytale-like imagery.

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Bat-men (How true my love)

tempera on panel
28 3/5 x 11 9/10 in. (72.6 x 30.2 cm)
Signed "Leonora Carrington" lower right.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $245,000

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York 26 May 2015 4pm