March, as many of you know, is Women’s history month and today is International Women’s Day. I should have been doing this for the past week, I seriously do not know why it didn’t occur to me until today, but for the rest of the month I am going to dedicate a post to a woman in the arts each day. I hope to help educate the public on the importance and value of art and of women in the arts.
Leonora Carrington – British-born Mexican artist. April 1917- May 2011
I was first introduced to Carrington’s work in a general art history class way back in 1998. I was 18 years old, a freshman in college and trying my best to learn as much about famous artists as I could. I remember having a fear that none of this art history I was “learning” would actually stick and everyone would soon know that I was really very clueless about art.
It was surrealism day in class and Leonora Carrington was one of the few female artists that graced the screen that day, or even that semester. I am fairly certain that her work was there more as a filler image for my professor’s lecture and an attempt to show some diversity in a course that was dominated by white male artists. My professor never did expand too much about Carrington work or her life and I don’t recall having to study her for any exam. But up on the screen amid the Dali’s and Magritte’s pops up Carrington’s ‘Self Portrait (1937)’ and I was immediately in awe. Her work seemed so much different than the other surrealists. Her self-portrait was raw and self-aware. At the time I didn’t know anything of her, but it was evident that she was expressing her core self.
Carrington used events in her life to draw from for artistic inspiration.
She was raised in Britain by a wealthy family and educated by a governess. At a young age she rebelled against the social life of the wealthy British. Kicked out of several schools due to “unruly behavior” until her father consented to send her to Florence, where she studied art. Shortly afterwards she attended Chelsea Art Academy and later the Ozenfant Academy in London.
In 1936 she met and fell in love with the German artist Max Ernst at a surrealist exhibition in London and later ran away with him to Paris where the two artists would nourished each other’s artistic visions. Her family was not very supportive and due to her relationship with Ernst she became estranged from her father. She painted Ernst’s portrait in a frosty landscape featuring him in an odd furry purple costume and an ice horse in the background as homage to their love.
Unfortunately WWII was looming in the near future and the two artists were separated. Ernst was first arrested by the French officials as a hostile alien and then later by the Nazis, where he was briefly placed in a concentration camp. The stress and fear of what as happening to Ernst caused Carrington to flee to Spain where she had a nervous break down and was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital. Her experiences here were later recounted in the book ‘Down Below’. When both Carrington and Ernst were able to meet up again, too much horror and trauma had happened for them to reconnect.
Carrington then married Mexican diplomat Renato Leduc to help her relocate to Mexico where she experience more success for her work than in her native Britain. When she and Leduc amicably divorced she then married photojournalist and Hungarian immigrant Chiki Weisz, had two sons and spent the rest of her life divided between Mexico City and New York City.
Leonora Carrington died May 25, 2011 at the age of 96.
Additional links for further discovery of Leonora Carrington.
http://maricarmenvillares.blogspot.com/2012/01/leonora-carrington-la-inasible.html – A blog in Spanish.