The Last of the Surrealists: Leonora Carrington


Leonora Carrington, one of the last surviving Surrealists, and one of the few women in that circle, died at 94 in Mexico City, where she’d lived for the past seven decades. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

Carrington was born in 1917 in Lancashire, England, to a British textile-magnate father and an Irish mother. A rule-breaker from a young age, Carrington was expelled from two Catholic schools before being sent to study art in Florence, and later London. It was there, at the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936, that Carrington was introduced to Max Ernst’s work. The two artists met soon after and became a couple, living in Paris and the south of France. Through Ernst, Carrington met Dalí, Breton, Man Ray, Duchamp and Tanguy. She was fiercely independent from a young age, and unwilling to fulfill the role of artist’s muse.

After a brief time together, Ernst was arrested and imprisoned at the start of World War I (he eventually fled to New York). Meanwhile, Carrington suffered a nervous breakdown and was temporarily institutionalized in Spain. Once she was released from the hospital, she married Renato Leduc, a Mexican diplomat, who helped her escape, first to New York, and soon after, to Mexico City, where she has lived ever since. Carrington divorced Leduc and married Emerico Weisz, a Hungarian photojournalist, and had two sons.

One of Carrington’s early Surrealist works, painted a few years after she met Ernst, is The Inn of the Dawn Horse (Self-Portrait), 1939. The crisply painted canvas, now owned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, shows the wild-haired artist awkwardly perched on a high-baked chair, a white rocking horse floating behind her head. She is pointing at a regal-looking hyena on the tile floor; visible through a window is a leaping all-white horse. Inspired by the Gaelic folktales told by her childhood nanny, and studies of the occult, most of Carrington’s paintings and sculptures incorporate animal imagery.

Large-scale bronze sculptures were installed in 2008 along the Paseo de la Reforma, a wide, pedestrian-friendly boulevard in Mexico City. Last summer, Carrington was included in “Surreal Friends,” a three-person show with Remedios Varo and Kati Horna, who all met in Mexico City in the early ‘40s, at the Pallant House Gallery in West Sussex.

Carrington is survived by her sons, Gabriel and Pablo, and five grandchildren.

Carrington with Max Ernst.