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Leonora Carrington Artworks

British Painter

Leonora Carrington Photo
Movement: Surrealism

Born: April 6, 1917 - Clayton Green, Lancashire, England

Died: May 25, 2011 - Mexico City, Mexico

Artworks by Leonora Carrington

The below artworks are the most important by Leonora Carrington - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Meal of Lord Candlestick (1938)

Completed shortly after her escape from England and the beginning of her affair with Max Ernst, this painting captures Carrington's rebellious spirit and rejection of her Catholic upbringing. "Lord Candlestick" was a nickname that Carrington used to refer to her father. The title of this work emphasizes Carrington's dismissal of her father's paternal oversight. In this scene, Carrington also transforms the ritual of the Eucharist into a dynamic display of barbarism: gluttonous female figures devour a male infant lying on the table. The table itself is a representation of one used in the great banquet hall in her parent's estate, Crookhey Hall. Carrington intentionally inverts the symbolic order of maternity and religion as a statement of her own subversive move towards personal freedom in France.

Portrait of Max Ernst (1939)

This early painting by Carrington was completed as a tribute to her relationship with the Surrealist artist Max Ernst. In the foreground, Ernst is shown enshrouded in a strange red cloak and yellow striped stockings holding an opaque, oblong lantern. A white horse, a symbol Carrington frequently included in her paintings as her animal surrogate, is shown poised and frozen in the background, observing Ernst. The two are alone in a frozen and desolate wasteland, a landscape symbolic of the feelings Carrington experienced while living with Ernst in occupied France.

Self-Portrait (c. 1937-38)

This painting perfectly summarizes Carrington's skewed perception of reality and exploration of her own femininity. The artist has painted herself posed in the foreground on a blue armchair, wearing androgynous riding clothes, facing outward to the viewer. She extends her hand toward a female hyena, and the hyena imitates Carrington's posture and gesture, just as the artist's wild mane of hair echoes the coloring of the hyena's coat. Carrington frequently used the hyena as a surrogate for herself in her art and writing; she was apparently drawn to this animal's rebellious spirit and its ambiguous sexual characteristics. In the window in the background, a white horse (which may also symbolize the artist herself) gallops freely in a forest. A white rocking horse in a similar position appears to float on the wall behind the artist's head, a nod to the fairytales of the artist's early childhood. Carrington had been raised in an aristocratic household in the English countryside and often fought against the rigidity of her education and upbringing. This painting, with its doublings, its transformations, and its contrast between restriction and liberation, seems to allude to her dramatic break with her family at the time of her romance with Max Ernst. The distorted perspective, enigmatic narrative, and autobiographical symbolism of this painting demonstrate the artist's attempt to reimagine her own reality.

The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) (1947)

Themes of transformation and metamorphosis were significant for Carrington, as was the concept of a feminine divinity with life-giving powers. This painting shows a monumental female figure in a red dress and a pale green cape towering over a forest of trees. Two geese appear to be emerging from beneath the figure's cape, and delicately painted animal figures and shapes are delineated on the Giantess's gown. The Giantess protects an egg, a universal symbol of new life, clasped in her hands, while geese circle clockwise around her and tiny figures and animals hunt and harvest in the foreground. The palette, scale, and facture of the painting demonstrate Carrington's interest in medieval and gothic imagery: the face of the Giantess resembles a Byzantine icon, painted flatly and illuminated with a gilded circle that frames her visage. The inclusion of geese may reflect her interest in Irish culture, in which this bird is a symbol of migration, travel, and homecoming. In a compositional technique reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch, Carrington has included a host of strange figures that appear to be floating in the background. While the marine colors indicate that the ships and images are likely at sea, Carrington's hieratic method in this painting merges the sea and sky included in one image, emphasizing her interest in art's capacity to combine worlds.

Ulu's Pants (1952)

The hybrid characters that populate the labyrinthine world of Ulu's Pants reveal Carrington's nostalgia for the Celtic mythology she learned as a child, as well as her exposure to various cultural traditions during her time in Mexico. The disconcerting monstrous figures in the foreground are arranged in a static row, as if acting in a play. An egg, symbolic of fertility and rebirth, is guarded at the lower right by a strange figure with a red head. Carrington was deeply concerned with continuous renewal through self-discovery, an idea incarnated by shape-shifting figures in the foreground and by the distant creatures searching for a pathway through the maze in the background.

Bird Bath (1974)

Later in her career, Carrington added portrayals of older women to her visual vocabulary of repeated settings and figures. The structure in the background of Bird Bath recalls her childhood home, Crookhey Hall, which was decorated with ornamental birds motifs. In the foreground, an elderly female figure dressed all in black (as Carrington herself dressed, in older age) sprays red paint onto a surprised-looking bird. The use of a large basin of water and a clean white cloth (held by the masked assistant) recalls the Christian sacrament of baptism, and the white bird may allude to the symbolic dove of the Holy Spirit. However, the ceremony enacted by these characters seems humorous as well as solemn. The woman in the scene has undergone her own transformation, from girl to crone, while retaining her creative power.

Related Artists and Major Works

Celebes (1921)

Celebes (1921)

Artist: Max Ernst (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

At center, a large round shape dominates the composition that Ernst based upon a photograph of a Sudanese bin for storing corn which the artist has refigured as an elephant-like mechanical being from the subconscious. The painting's title (sometimes known as The Elephant Celebes) comes from a childish and naughty German rhyme that starts off, "The elephant from Celebes has sticky, yellow bottom grease," a bawdy reference to those that know the original rhyme.

Ernst's painting demonstrates his indebtedness to Freudian dream theory with its odd juxtapositions of disparate objects. Despite this disparity - a headless/nude woman, the bits of machinery - the painting holds together as a finished composition. Ernst's work elicits discomfort in the not knowing of his intentions and also, in early-20th century audiences, disgust because of its irrelevant depiction of the human form (the headless nude) which is revered within art making (since people are made in God's image). Through this work, Ernst questions which is the "real" world - that of night-time and dreams - or that of the waking state.

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) (1936)

Artist: Salvador Dalí (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Dalí painted this work just prior to the start of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 and said it was evidence of the prophetic power of his subconscious mind. He depicts the anxiety of the time, visually predicting the violence, horror, and doom many Spaniards felt during General Franco's later rule. Two grossly elongated and exaggerated figures struggle, locked in a tensely gruesome fight where neither seems to be the victor. To quote Dalí, the painting shows "a vast human body breaking out into monstrous excrescences of arms and legs tearing at one another in a delirium of autostrangulation." The boiled bean referenced in the title most likely refers to the simple stew that was eaten by the poverty-ridden citizens living through this difficult time in Spain.

Dalí's composition manages to express his political outrage. He would later continue to paint about politics and war in a series of works on Hitler and his agreement with Lord Chamberlain of Britain. This image also brings to mind Pablo Picasso's masterwork on a similar topic, Guernica (1937).

Egg in the church or The Snake (Date Unknown)

Artist: André Breton (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Egg in the church or The Snake is an example of photographic collage that was popularized by Surrealists like Breton and Man Ray. Typical of Breton, the title is both symbolic and enigmatic and its subject matter is cryptic and dream-like. It exemplifies the Surrealist interest in the female body as form, as well as an interest in themes concerning sexuality and religion, as elucidated by Georges Bataille. Bataille's text dealt, in part, with Christianity's repression of desire. Breton and his colleagues aspired to reduce all sexual repressions to symbols and language that would serve freedom of expression.


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