Leonora Carrington (b. 1917)
- Leonora Carrington
- The Ordeal of Owain
- signed lower left; also inscribed with title on the stretcher
- oil on canvas
- 39 1/4 by 31 1/4 in.
- 100 by 79.4 cm
- Painted in 1959.
Sale: Christie's, New York, Important Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, November 19, 1991, lot 22., illustrated in color
Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art, New York
British-born Leonora Carrington joined the Surrealist Movement in 1937, two years before it disbanded due to World War II. In 1942, she immigrated to Mexico where she joined Kati and José Horna, Esteban Francés, Edward James, Wolfgang Paalen, Benjamin Peret, Alice Rahon, and Remedios Varo, other Surrealists in exile. In Mexico, Carrington produced her most important work. A recurring theme in Leonora Carrington's oeuvre is an interest in her Celtic ancestry. Although Carrington's painting generally arises from an event or narrative, the final result is multilayered, making its reading a complex but fascinating endeavor. Peeling back the layers of her work renders a rich sense of her perception and interpretation of experiences. In order to grasp an understanding of The Ordeal of Owain, one first needs to know who Owain was.
Owain was the son of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn, a prince of Powis in Wales, and he was trouble. Wherever he went, he created havoc, and even got away with murder. Early on, Owain established a bad reputation for himself after killing the sons of a neighboring prince to steal their lands. He went on to hurt many people and do much damage; but the vengeful are patient, and eventually he reaped what he sowed.
During a feast given by his father, he heard about the beautiful Nest. Owain did not stop thinking about her until he could see her with his own eyes, and when he did, he was love struck. That Nest was married to Gerald of Windsor and had children did not matter to him. Determined to make her his, Owain began scheming to kidnap her. One night, with the help of 15 cronies, he smuggled himself into Gerald's castle, abducting Nest and the children. Gerald, barely escaping with his life, swore vengeance. From the endless damage that Owain did in his lifetime, the rape of Nest earned him the most infamy.
The abduction was followed by one destructive event after another, as Owain's father found himself under siege and lost the family lands to enemies within Wales as well as to King Henry of England. Cadwagn regained, lost, and regained his land numerous times, but at last found himself isolated and never at peace. Owain, whether in exile in Ireland or back on the family estates, continued his trouble-making. He raided his uncle's lands, sold captives as slaves, and committed murder after murder, finally getting his own father killed as a victim of revenge. As King Henry prevailed over the territories of Wales, Owain eventually joined with him and his forces. Among these troops was Gerald of Windsor, the husband of Nest, who had been returned to him with two children by Owain. Having never forgotten the insult, Gerald killed Owain.
In The Ordeal of Owain, Carrington records Owain's last moment on earth. The Celts chose natural places for religious activity, especially for very specific ceremonies. In a sacred grove used for druidical sacrifice, four women, three acolytes in attendance on the left and one priestess on the right, perform their ceremonial duties. The blue acolyte, as a witness of grief, weeps a pearl into a glass vessel; the red one, bringing light and warmth in the form of fire, foretells sacrifice; and the golden one provides the vital breath. The priestess is stirring a cauldron. Among the Celts, these ceremonial cooking vessels were associated with rebirth and resurrection, which is why the priestess is adding an apple to the brew. Fruit was considered a source of the Origin, for its seeds produced life. The cauldron is balanced and warmed over a four-walled enclosure in which Owain, mounted on his horse, is starting to burn. The enclosure itself is suspended over flames rising from a burner resting on the ground. This enclosure and all that is in it comprise the brew. One Celtic tale narrates how the Irish cooked their dead soldiers in a cauldron at night, to rise and fight again the next day.
March 27, 2010