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Literature - Writers - Leonora Carrington - Bio

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Leonora Carrington, biography and self-portrait (1)

The following biography is from

This text is different to (and longer than) the one I gave out in class, which is included in one of her books, The House of Fear--published by Virago. The biography used in class is followed by an extract of the Introduction in the book, where Marina Warner comments The Debutante and the issue of animals in Leonora.

Leonora Carrington (b. 1917)

Leonora Carrington was born in Lancashire, northern England in 1917. She was the 2nd child, the only daughter. Her parents were both very strict Catholics. Family was eldest Pat, then Leonora, Gerald and finally Arthur. Her parents changed houses often throughout the early years.

Carrington came into contact with Surrealism through her lover, the Surrealist painter Max Ernst (1891 - 1976). She met him after being invited to a dinner party hosted by Ursula Goldfinger, wife of the Hungarian revolutionary architect Erno Goldfinger. Ursula who was a member of the Blackwell family, of Cross and Blackwell fame. Ernst had an exhibition at a London gallery at the time just after the great Surrealist exhibition (around the mid 1930s). Ernst left his wife for Carrington, his Bride of the Wind.

The couple lived together until the outbreak of the Second World War. She was with Ernst & the Surrealists in Paris when she was still in her early 20s, and would attend their famous meetings at the cafe in St. Germain-des-Pres. As this was the period just preceding the 2nd World War Hitler's threat on the freedom of the whole of Europe was the main talking point. When war was declared between France and Germany , Max Ernst was put in a concentration camp. As a German citizen he was held by the French. He was released then taken back in custody along with all the German citizens in the Marseilles area. Carrington was allowed to see him once, but only for two minutes. The Germans were getting closer so Michel Lukacs, his girlfriend Catherine and Carrington decided to escape. The only way out was through the south. They went to Perpnian and then to Andorra where Carrington 's father shipped them to a mysterious Jesuit who got us through to Spain. Carrington 's father wanted her back in England , but she did not go because she wanted to free Ernst. Catherine and Leonora continued with the Jesuit who took them to Seo de Urgel in the city Cataluna, from there they went by car to Barcelona. She met up with Renato Leduc (a friend from Paris) in Madrid. He was a friend of Picasso 's. During this time she had several mental breakdowns. On one occasion she was institutionalized (by the intervention of her family in England ) and given cardiazol, a powerful shock inducing drug. This drug was administered to many female patients from what doctors diagnosed or rather coined the term "hysteria". After one breakdown, and whilst in Santader and in hospital, Carrington escaped, went to the Mexican Embassy and married Leduc, a Mexican diplomat. (Carrington has repeatedly stated over the years that though she like Renato this was a marriage of convenience). They then embarked by ship to the U.S. . Meanwhile, Ernst was with Peggy Guggenheim in Portugal. She was to remain in Mexico i from 1942 until 1985 when she moved to the United States . Among others there who she knew and was in close contact with were Andre Breton , Luis Buñuel , Andre Masson, Marc Chagall, Ozenfant and Marcel Duchamp. Her circle also included Pierre Mabille, who encouraged her to write Down Below, Octavio Paz, Diego Rivera, and to a lesser extent, Frida Kahlo. In the early period of her life in Mexico Carrington met the Hungarian immigrant Chiqui Weisz , a photographer, and married him in 1946. Their son, the artist Pablo Weisz Carrington was born in 1947, and was an illustrator of perhaps her best known book of fiction, The Hearing Trumpet. During this long period of residence she, like Remedios Varo (1908 - 1963) (who became a great friend & was the partner of Benjamin Peret) was regarded as an integral part of the Mexican art scene. Also like Varo, Carrington had a passionate interest in the occult; many allusions to anostic doctrines appear in her work, as do references to techniques of divanation and prognostication and to ancient celtic mythology. She was, for example, greatly impressed by Robert Graves 's book The White Goddess when this was first published in 1949. Reference to Mexican myths and legends are entirely absent but for one totally uncharacteristic exception: the mural she was commissioned to do for the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City in the room dedicated to the state of Chiapas. Her great patron was Edward James who arranged her a show for Carrington in Pierre Matisse's gallery in New York in 1947. Her first exhibition in Mexico was at a furniture shop! As well as painting, Carrington has been a profilic writer and storyteller. As mentioned her most famous piece was The Hearing Trumpet. It was set in the 1950s when she was around forty and was typed by herself on a Remington . A friend of mine, Albert Lewin a film director, intended on publishing it in New York , but no one was interested in the theme. Finally, Henri Parisot wrote to her from Paris to ask about it and took over publishing the project. Now residing in the U.S., Leonora Carrington continues to work even though she is now well into her 80s. She has written a myriad of articles, novels, essays, and poems. She has produced thousands of paintings, sculptures, collages, and a number of tapestries. Her work, especially in painting, will be remembered as some of the most important in female art of the 20th century. Her reputation is assured alongside female artist icons like Frida Kahlo and Leonor Fini.