Leonora Carrington, 1917–2011


Self-portrait (1937–38) by Leonora Carrington.

Imagination and fantasy were two of the tools women artists used in the early decades of the 20th century to force their way into a male-dominated art world. The proliferation of illustrated books provided a creative platform in the Edwardian era for women shut out of art movements whose aesthetics might be avant garde but whose attitudes to sexual politics were either ignorant or reactionary. It was only with the advent of Surrealism that a notable body of women artists emerged in the field of painting and sculpture, not only Leonora Carrington but her almost namesake Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo, Meret Oppenheim, Kay Sage, Valentine Hugo and others. Part of this was the tenor of the time, of course, but Surrealism had no choice but to be open to anyone who came calling; if you’re going to let dreams and irrationality dictate the debate then everything that was previously fixed is up for grabs including gender dominance and sexuality. Leonora Carrington had a longer career than her contemporaries, and also distinguished herself as a writer of fantastic novels and short stories. Dalí aside, it could be argued that among the original Surrealists it was the women who stayed true to the project in subsequent decades. Max Ernst was a lover of Leonora and later married Dorothea Tanning but he left Surrealism after the Second World War for other styles of painting.

In Carrington’s work, mystical forces and surging instincts overpower the reign of reason. This is rebellion and liberation in the true surrealist sense. It is not the angry, testosterone-driven smack in the face typical of the high-profile showmen of surrealism. Rather, it is a low-key mystic subversion powered by the intrigues of seductive sibyls, sorceresses, and priestesses. (More.)

Among the obituary notices surfacing there’s a piece by Leonora’s cousin, Joanna Moorhead, who wrote a couple of years ago about her search for her celebrated relative, and a notice in the Telegraph. Ten Dreams has a small gallery of her paintings.

For Leonora Carrington by Peter Lamborn Wilson
• Coilhouse: Leonora Carrington – 6 April 1917 – 25 May 2011

Previously on { feuilleton }
Marsi Paribatra: the Royal Surrealist
Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism
Return to Las Pozas
The art of Leonor Fini, 1907–1996
Surrealist women
Las Pozas and Edward James

4 thoughts on “Leonora Carrington, 1917–2011”

  1. Sad news indeed, Miss Carrington was a truly inspirational force. I recall tracking down her novels in the 90s and being stunned by the quality of her imagination. There was an excellent Omnibus (or maybe South Bank Show) broadcast around the same time which I watched over and over, fascinated by this incredible woman, her mysterious art and her extraordinary story. RIP.

  2. The documentary was an Omnibus one, I have it on tape, Leonora Carrington and the House of Fear. Omnibus featured some good films about the Surrealists, in addition to that one they showed the amazing Dalí film, Impressions de la Haute Mongolie, and also a documentary about Edward James which I’d love to see again. James did a lot to support Leonora’s art, and they both gravitated to Mexico. Can’t blame her for that, if she’d have stayed here her work would have been dismissed by the metropolitan critics who always regard imaginative painting as vulgar.

  3. Actually, I’d no idea she was still alive. Her pictures always reminded me of Val Lewton, Bergman, or Cocteau films, with all their silently uncanny allure and menace. I definitely like her work more than that of the well-known Surrealists, hell, I’ll just say it, I like her work more than Dali’s, no question about it. Dan Ghetu at Ex Occidente Press (I am still waiting for my damn books) ought to consider using some of her artwork for some of his upcoming projects, as the atmosphere from what little I’ve been able to read is very similar to that evoked by Carrington, the unassuming but formidable little witch that she is, or rather was. Rest in Peace.

  4. She was active into her nineties as well, which is something many artists don’t manage. Her work never panders the way Dalí’s began to do once he moved to America. And she also has an advantage in being less well-known, her pictures seem more surprising for being unfamiliar. Dalí and Magritte have suffered through over-familiarity and through having many of their tricks co-opted by ad agencies.

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