Lot 39
  • 39

Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)

150,000 - 250,000 USD
185,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Leonora Carrington
  • The Magus Zoroaster Meeting His Own Image in the Garden (Brothers in Babylone)
  • signed and dated 1960 lower left
  • oil on canvas


Gift from the artist 1960
The Collection of Maurice Henry Cardiff and Leonora Cardiff, Mexico and the United Kingdom
Thence by descent to the present owner


London, Serpentine Gallery, Leonora Carrington, Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture 1940-1990, December 11, 1991-January 26, 1992, no. 41; p. 23 and p. 29, discussed


Whitney Chadwick, Leonora Carrington, La Realidad de la imaginación, Mexico City, 1994, no. 57, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

The original owner of this painting, Maurice Henry Cardiff, was an officer in the British Council who led an adventurous career spanning over three decades serving posts in Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Belgium, Thailand, and France. It was in 1959, when he began a four year post in Mexico. Once there, he wrote One’s Man Mexico (published in 1968) under his secret pen name John Lincoln.

His wife, Leonora, a Stratford upon Avon and RADA trained actress, met the other Leonora, Leonora Carrington, during a luncheon shortly after the couple’s arrival to Mexico. Maurice Cardiff described meeting Carrington in his 1997 book Friends Abroad:
"A month or two after our arrival, my wife, returning from a women's lunch party, told me she had sat next to a beautiful and fascinating English painter. From an early interest in surrealism, although I had not seen any of Leonora Carrington's paintings even in reproduction, I remembered she had been one of a group of surrealists [....] Now, on our first visit to her studio where we met her anarchist husband, Chiqui, to whom we became deeply attached, and were captivated by her paintings which had a magic uniquely their own, we began a friendship which was to last throughout our stay in Mexico and beyond.” It was also by this chance meeting, that the Cardiffs were introduced to the eccentric English aristocrat Edward James, the creator of the surrealist garden Las Pozas, along with Remedios Varo, and the surrealist social circle at the time.

The Magus Zoroaster Meeting His Own Image in the Garden (Brothers in Babylone) was a gift from Leonora Carrington to the Cardiffs in 1960, the same year she painted the work. Since that time, the painting has only been shown in public once, in the Leonora Carrington retrospective exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery in 1991. A densely layered and mysterious painting, the imagery in the The Magus Zoroaster evokes the magical, fantastic and imaginary world so typical of Carrington.

Here Carrington references the Magus Zoroaster, the ancient Persian prophet, whose teachings were based upon the dramatic meeting of twin spirits representing good and evil. Carrington depicts her version of the encounter with Zoroaster greeting and encountering two slightly altered versions of himself: Who represents good? Who represents evil? Will good or evil prevail? Does the Magus Zoroaster like his own reflection?

Looking more closely at the painting, one finds Carrington’s mirror-writing (a technique borrowed from Leonardo Da Vinci), inscribed at the feet of the Zoroaster twins, “Ere Babylon was dust, the Magus Zoroaster, my dead child, Met his own image walking in the garden.” Carrington directly references another meeting in this line, one between Mother Earth and her son Prometheus, from Percy Bysshe Shelly’s epic drama “Prometheus Unbound” (1820). Mother Earth, in this one swift line, implies a journey of self-confrontation for her doomed son.

More importantly, The Magus Zoroaster Meeting His Own Image is a typical example of Carrington’s obsessive exploration of identity and “the other” through the use of avatars and cryptic symbols in her paintings. The two beasts, the lion and the ram both ancient symbols of the sun and power, prowling behind the Magus Zoroaster; the cloaked figure in the background watching over the meeting; the bright red rose the only suggestion of the Garden and the possible representation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (the ancient meeting place of the spiritual and physical worlds); the bird and the snake on the floor both having encountered their end, both possible representations of the battle between good versus evil.

As much as we can try to identify the meaning of each figure, to decipher the exact location of this obscure garden scene, to suspect a conclusion and resolution to this meeting, Carrington leaves much to mystery. She allows us to continue imagining the story of the Magus Zoroaster and invites us to endlessly return to the fantasy world she has created.