You can read many facts about Leonora Carrington, the recently deceased surrealist artist by checking Wikipedia or any of the hundreds of news sites that featured articles about her this past week. But if you’re driven to learn more intimate details about her life and art, you need to read Elena Poniatowska’s award winning novel “Leonora.” To do so, Spanish is a must because there is not yet an English language version of the book… although I expect that one will come along fairly soon. Leonora Carrington was after all, British born.
Ms. Poniatowska begins the biography by describing Leonora’s early years in her emotionally distant home environment at Crookhey Hall in Lancashire. The family wanted her to become a gentile young lady. She said she wanted to be a horse!
Leonora set her sights on becoming a serious artist but was thwarted again and again by her conservative family. She would not conform and her behavior became more and more erratic. Her art had a decidedly surrealistic bent and she caught the attention of Max Ernst, who at the time was a well known surrealist – twice her age. Nonetheless, the two became lovers and returned to Paris together. He was married to another woman but Leonora and Max lived together. Political (and other pressures) split the couple and this seemed to be the final straw for her fragile equilibrium…The family considered that she had gone mad and had her institutionalized. Yet, despite her drug therapy induced stupor, she managed to escape confinement. Eventually she sought refuge at the Mexican Embassy in Lisbon.
Renato Leduc, a member of Mexico’s artistic community agreed to marry her, thus assuring her entrance into his country. Just prior to WW II the Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas and his wife were personally involved in the rescue of thousands of Spanish and other European artists, writers, philosophers, other intellectuals and politicians, who with their families sought refuge in Mexico. Once Leonora’s residence had been secured, she and Leduc parted.
Leonora Carrington said of this time in her life.”I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.”
In Mexico, her artistic career flourished. In addition to her sculpture and painting, Leonora was a prolific writer. She later married Emericko Weisz. The couple had two sons. She has told many interviewers that the birth of her children was her life’s most significant and important event. It is to be noted that Elena Poniatowska has said the same thing. I would venture to say that this publically declared sentiment causes many ordinary women to feel an affinity with these two extraordinary female artists.
Leonora lived in New York City during part of the 1960s, but most of her life has been spent in Mexico City.
In Merida, during the early part of this year, we were fortunate to have a visiting exhibition of her large bronze sculptures. Anyone who saw the pieces could not help but be impressed by her mythical beings – colossal but delicate – feminine and richly detailed. The elongated necks, limbs and beaks and hooves, featured on otherwise human forms, somehow reminded me of demi-deities of Mexican pre-Columbian imagery – feathered serpents, eagle and jaguar warriors, deer icons, and fertility goddesses Tonanzin and Ixel…
Leonora Carrington is one of the many non-native-born Latinas who have enriched Mexico’s arts and literature during the past century. While Elena Poniatowska is the daughter of a Mexican national, Paula Amor, the family lived in France until political circumstances also caused them to flee to Mexico. Both women (along with “Yours truly” and a host of my friends) are heartfelt in saying, “It is an ill wind that brings no good.”