Lot 43
  • 43

Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)

300,000 - 400,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Leonora Carrington
  • Untitled (Ritual)
  • signed and dated 1964 lower left
  • oil on canvas
  • 32 by 13 in.
  • 81 by 33 cm


Acquired from the artist by the present owner


This work is in beautiful condition. The canvas is still on its original stretcher. The sheen or lack thereof is all original. There is a small retouch on the lower left edge and another two on the lower right edge. But otherwise there is no other retouching (This condition report has been provided courtesy of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.)
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

“Myth, magic and the occult” were key interests that “shaped the [pictorial] imagery” of the women Surrealist artists. [1] Andre Bretón, the self-proclaimed leader of the Surrealist group, constructed his vision of women as sorceresses, accrediting them as the key intermediaries to the powers of Nature that were “forbidden to men.” [2] The women artists capitalized upon Breton’s female archetype creating a visual vocabulary that was distinctly their own—their paintings were windows to the arcane. The French Surrealist poet and painter Alice Rahon best described the power the paintings wielded: they are a “key to the invisible […] like the shaman, the Sybil and the wizard, the painter had to make himself humble, so that he could share in the manifestation of spirits and forms.” [3]

Artists Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini, Remedios Varo, Dorothea Tanning, Alice Rahon, Kay Sage, and others infused their works with unfamiliar symbols and otherworldly figures that helped create unnerving and fantastical narratives. Animal avatars, magicians and morphed, human-animal creatures are found in tenuous backdrops of gardens, forests and strange architectural settings. For Leonora Carrington specifically, her fascination with the magical practices of the ancient Celtic and Meso-American cultures has a reoccurring role throughout her body of work. Upon her arrival in Mexico in the early 1940s, the country’s vibrant landscape and mixed cultures offered her along with other Surrealist emigres a luscious source of inspiration. Carrington’s work vastly matured here and by the 1960s her output had become progressively complex and cryptic.

The present work, Untitled (Ritual), executed in 1964 is a key example. The viewer is struck immediately by an anthropomorphic transformation in progress—a  ritual rite that bears direct reference to the parallel esoteric practices of the Celts and the pre-Hispanics that so interested Carrington, most particularly the Aztec notion of nahualismo in which each human was born with a protective animal spirit. Set in an unidentifiable space with subdued colors, the exceptional area of intense color is the fiery, red stage in the center of the composition where the transformation takes place. The triumphantly posed multi-limbed and feathered blue creature is surrounded by an observant and meditative group of cloaked priests and shamans. Mixed among them are a variety of animals, seemingly intentional references from Celtic lore: serpents surrounding the stage symbolize wisdom and more importantly serve as protectors; a trio of birds concentrated in the right quadrant alludes to their role as messengers between the spiritual and physical worlds; a ram and bull in the left perhaps represent renewal. In true Carrington fashion, we as viewers are invited only as voyeurs and observers of this peculiar and theatrical spectacle.



[1] Whitney Chadwick, “The Hermetic Tradition,” Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, 1985, New York, p. 186
[2] Whitney Chadwick ,“The Female Earth: Nature and the Imagination," Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, 1985, New York, p. 142.
[3] Alice Rahon, Alice Rahon, (Willard Gallery, New York, Exhibition Catalogue) 1951