Sunday, 5 April 2015


“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” - Salvador Dali

The Google Doodle today highlights an artist I was not aware of before now, so I thought it a good idea to find out a little more about her and feature her on Art Sunday here, as well. Leonora Carrington (British, born April 6, 1917–died May 25, 2011) was an artist and author, best known as one of the leading female figures of the Surrealist movement. Carrington was born in Clayton Green, Lancashire, England, to a wealthy textile merchant family, and received much of her early education from tutors and nuns.

After being expelled from several schools due to her rebellious nature, Carrington was sent to Florence, Italy, to attend her first art school, Mrs. Penrose’s Academy of Art. Her education continued at Chelsea School of Art in London for a year, after which she transferred to Ozenfant Academy, London, for the following three years. In 1937, Carrington met Max Ernst, who is recognised as one of the pioneers of the Surrealist movement. Carrington and Ernst formed a strong bond, and lived in Paris and southern France where they supported each other’s artistic talent and vision. This would result in their collaboration on several pieces of art that they used to decorate their home.

After Ernst’s arrest by the Nazis shortly after their occupation of France, Carrington moved to Spain, where she suffered a complete breakdown that resulted in her being institutionalised. This experience would directly influence both her artistic and written works in the coming years. Examples of this influence can be seen in her novel “Down Below” (1972), and her paintings “Portrait of Dr. Morales” (1940) and “Map of Down Below” (1943).

In 1947, Carrington became extremely well known almost overnight after she showcased her work at a Surrealist exhibition held at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. As the only professional female painter represented at the exhibition, she quickly made a name for herself as one of the most prominent female painters of the Surrealist movement. In 2010, Carrington’s work was presented during a show entitled “Surreal Friends” at the Pallant House Gallery in West Sussex. Before her death in 2011, Carrington was recognised as one of the last female painters of the Surrealist movement. She also gained recognition when her painting Juggler (1954) set a new record as the most expensive piece ever sold by a living Surrealist painter. Carrington died on May 25, 2011.

The painting above is a “Self Portrait” from 1937/8. The painter has depicted herself in a vacuous room with three animals: A curious hyena, looking like a pygmy-like striped mare, which she seems to hold at bay with an apotropaic gesture; a rocking horse floating above her head and a white, almost unicorn-like horse galloping away in the landscape seen from the open window. Horses symbolise freedom and power. In some cultures, white horses stand for the balance of wisdom and power. In others, like Christianity, the white horse is a symbol of death. The horse is a universal symbol of freedom without restraint, because riding a horse made people feel they could free themselves from their own bindings. Also linked with riding horses, they are symbols of travel, movement, and desire.

Carrington spent her childhood on a country estate surrounded by animals and reading fairy tales and legends. She revisited these memories in her adulthood, creating paintings populated with real and imagined creatures. Here, the white horse, which Carrington used as her symbolic surrogate, gallops freely into the verdant landscape beyond the curtained window. The hyena in front of her is a powerful symbol of femininity and maternity, the breasts full of milk. The tail-less rocking horse is perhaps an allusion to childhood, left behind as the artist gallops into maturity, beyond the shackles of convention.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder why Carrington chose surrealism as her art style of choice. Clearly by the exhibition of 1947 she was making a public statement about her preferences, but what of her style (s) in the early years of her career?