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Leonora Carrington: The Surreal Life of the Last Original Surrealist

Updated on July 7, 2011
Leonora Carrington (self-portrait)
Leonora Carrington (self-portrait)

Leonora Carrington was an infamous surrealist painter, sculptor and writer. She was considered by many as the last great living original surrealists before her death on May 25, 2011. Her works have been exhibited in Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Just as intriguing as her strange ritual-like works is her life story.

Leonora Carrington was born in Clayton Green, Lancashire, England on April 6, 1917. She was born into a wealthy family with her Anglo-Irish Protestant father being a textile-maker and her beautiful Roman Catholic Irish mother painting small murals. She was second born with three brothers.

At age nine, Leonora was enrolled into a religious New Hall School, Chelmsford but was expelled for behavioral issues. Next, she was enrolled into the boarding school Mrs. Penrose’s Academy of Art in Florence, Italy which also didn’t last long. Finally, she enrolled into the Chelsea School of Art in London and then the Academy of Amedee Ozenfant. It was here that Leonora, age 19, met German artist Max Ernst, age 46, at a dinner party in 1937 held by Erno Goldfinger, the Hungarian revolutionary architect.

Miquito Pajarero Sculpture
Miquito Pajarero Sculpture

Leonora returned to Paris with Ernst (which he then separated from his wife) and befriended other great surrealists as Andre Breton and Pablo Picasso. She held her first surrealist exhibition in Paris and Amsterdam in 1938. Unfortunately, her romance with Ernst will be short lived. When World War II broke out with Germany, he was arrested in 1939 by French authorities under the charges of being a “hostile alien.” Ernst would be released in a few weeks, just to be arrested again by the Gestapo after the Nazi occupation of France for practicing “degenerate art”. He managed to escape to America with no further contact with Leonora. Out of heartbreak, Leonora fled to Spain in 1940. She was committed to an insane asylum by her parents in Santander after loudly threatening to plot to kill Adolph Hitler at the British Embassy inMadrid. During her time at the asylum she was given doses of Cardiazol, a heavy sedative now banned by the FDA for its induced spasms and hallucinations.

After some time, Leonora was put under the care of a nurse in Lisbon, who she was able to escape and fled to the Mexican Embassy. She was assisted by friend Renato Leduc, whom was a Mexican diplomat. The two married to allow Leonora to leave Europe. She resided inNew York during the 1960s, then moved to Mexico, and became a Mexican citizen. Leonora became apart of the elite trio of female Mexican surrealists amongst the dominated surrealist males. The trio included herself, the celebrated Frida Kahlo, and the legendary Remedies Varo. Leonora married Emericko Weisz, and had a son named Gabriel Weisz whom became an intellectual and a poet, and had a second son named Pablo Weisz whom became a surrealist artist and doctor. She lived out her primary residence in Mexico City (with frequent trips to New York and Chicago) until the age of 94. It’s reported by her closest friends that she died of complications from pneumonia after being hospitalized.


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    • nestle02 profile image

      nestle02 6 years ago from Florida, USA

      Thanx and thanx so much for sharing Chirico's quote!

    • jkhan profile image

      jkhan 6 years ago

      The only surrealist painter that I ever knew was Georgio de Chirico. I must include his famous quote here and share it with you;

      "To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams..."

      The self-portrait is really beautifull. I learnt something new.Thanks for sharing this.