Lot 32
  • 32

Leonora Carrington

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Leonora Carrington
  • signed Leonora Carrington and dated Nov. 25 1941 A.D. (lower left)

  • oil on canvas
  • 61 by 45.5cm.
  • 24 by 17 7/8 in.


Rudi Blesh, New York (acquired from the artist)
Private Collection, New York (by descent from the above)
Teresa Faibelman, Mexico City (acquired from the above by 1990)
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Catalogue Note

Personajes de teatro, Carrington's fantastic oil from 1941, exemplifies the artist's chief aesthetic concerns at the height of the Surrealist movement. Spindly characters coexist alongside the pelts of a long-horned steer and spotted horse, and the apparent lack of context or narrative probes the imagination. The theatricality of the scene calls to mind several perplexing stage and film productions of Carrington's Surrealist colleagues, including Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's wildly popular Un Chien Andalou from 1931. But the choice of imagery in this picture had personal significance for Carrington. The artist had a life-long fondness for mythical animals, fairies and birds, and both she and her lover Max Ernst incorporated these beasts into their pictures. Horses, in particular, commonly figured in Carrington's art, and she used the animal as a signifier of herself in her Self-Portrait, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (fig. 1). 

Carrington painted this enigmatic picture during one of the most troubling periods of her life. Following the arrest of her lover Ernst in France during the Nazi occupation in 1940, Carrington left for Spain, where she suffered severe bouts of anxiety and a mental collapse. Over the next several months she endured harrowing treatments of 'convulsive therapy' with the dangerous, seizure-inducing drug Cardiazol. Ernst, however, was able to escape his imprisonment and flee to the United States with the assistance of Peggy Guggenheim, whom he married in 1941 -- the same year that Carrington painted Personajes de teatro. While the tendency to link an artist's mental state with the content of her pictures is often problematic, one is tempted to draw parellels between the events in Carrington's life at the time and the nervous tension and autobiographical symbolism evidenced in the present picture.  

The symbolism of the picture is further reinforced upon consideration of Carrington's work of fiction, Waiting, also written in 1941. The story, which is also assumed to be largely autobiographical, deals with the struggle of two women over a man. Her description of one of these women is startling for its resemblence to the female figure in the present work: 'She was like a familiar ghost, but she was strange looking; her clothes were much too long and her hair much too untidy, like those of a person barely saved from drowning.'  In another passage, Carrington describes one female character draped in an animal pelt which she hands over to her rival: 'The blond woman took a sheepskin off her arm and wrapped it around the other.  'Come,' she said, 'you must get free, free to kill and scream, free to tear out his hair and free to run away only to come back laughing.'  In her analysis of Carrington's writing, Annette Shandler Levitt makes the following observations about the artist's fiction and her paintings: 'The art of Leonora Carrington is never sentimental, and her fictions and paintings alike are filled with revolt, both explicit and subtle, evoking those revolts of her own earlier years' (A. Shandler Levitt, 'The Bestial Fictions of Leonora Carrington,' in Journal of Modern Literature, Bloomington, Summer 1996, p. 65).

We are grateful to Dr. Salomon Grimberg, Dallas, for his help in preparing this entry.

FIG. 1, Leonora Carrington, Self Portrait (The Inn of the Dawn Horse), circa 1937-38, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

FIG. 2, Leonora Carrington in her studio