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Leonora Carrington OBE - Lancashire's Brilliant Surrealist Painter

Leonora Carrington
Lancashire's Brilliant Surrealist Painter

Mary Leonora Carrington OBE (6th April 1917 – 25th May 2011) was a Lancashire-born, naturalized Mexican artist, surrealist painter and novelist. She lived most of her adult life in Mexico City and was one of the last surviving participants in the surrealist movement of the 1930s. Carrington was also a founding member of the women's liberation movement in Mexico during the 1970s.

Leonora Carrington's birthplace in Clayton-le-Woods, near Chorley in Lancashire, is now commemorated by an information board placed on the site of her former home and birthplace, Westwood House. 

Crookhey Hall

Until recently, I had not previously heard of Leonora Carrington.  It is possible that I have previously seen some of her work, but I did not know that she was the artist.  I was sent on the trail after one of my Historic England Listed Building searching walks took me north of Garstang towards Cockerham.
I got as far as Forton, but was looking at some of the Listed Building locations on my mobile phone and spotted Crookhey Hall.  I decided to research it a bit further when I got home.  The object of the exercise was to get a photograph to upload to the Historic England website.  I had managed to take one zoomed in from perhaps half a mile away, but it was misty following a day of rain and my camera couldn't focus too well.  I looked online for any existing photographs, to check that I was definitely looking at the right building.  As well as turning up photos, I noticed that there were a number of paintings that included something that resembled the building, with what appeared to be ghosts floating around it.  I was intrigued.  The images turned out to be of a painting created by the artist Leonora Carrington.  I wondered about her connection to Crookhey Hall, which is now a school.  Further investigation, led me to the the history of Leonora Carrington, and her surrealist artwork.

Crookhey Hall by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
Crookhey Hall by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)


Leonora Carrington OBE

Leonora Carrington OBE (Order of the British Empire), was a Lancashire-born artist, novelist, and surrealist painter.  She was born on the 6th of April 1917 in Westwood House, Clayton-le-Woods.  Her family later moved to Crookhey Hall, a Mansion in Cockerham near Lancaster.  Leonora was a feisty debutante from a very upper-class family.  She caused no end of havoc to her family due to her anti-social behaviour.  She was expelled from three convent schools, and on one of these occasions it was for exposing herself to a priest!  

Whilst studying art in London she ran off to Paris with her artistic lover, the German surrealist Max Ernst, after meeting him at the great Surrealist exhibition in 1937.  She was a key member of the Parisian Surrealist group, her circle of friends included Picasso, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp.  During WWII, when the Nazis invaded Paris she fled to Spain where she suffered a mental breakdown.  She had to be rescued from the asylum by her former Irish nanny sent especially by her family from England.  She then went to New York and travelled to Mexico where she married Renato Leduc, a Mexican poet and journalist.  She married again in 1943 to Chiki Weisz and finally settled in Mexico City until her death on 25th May 2011 aged 94.  Leonora, the last great surrealist, was best known as an artist of haunting, dreamlike works many focusing on strange ritual-like scenes with animals, and mystical creatures possibly inspired by her Lancashire upbringing and interest in witchcraft, Catholic symbolism and the landscape.  She also wrote short stories, poetry and novels, her most famous being an hilariously strange book, ‘The Hearing Trumpet’ (a Penguin Modern Classic 2005) about an elderly woman in a care home.  Leonora Carrington was awarded an OBE in 2000. 

Leonora Carrington made history in 2005 when her painting Juggler (1954) sold at auction for $713,000, which was believed to be the highest price paid for a work by a living Surrealist artist.  Throughout the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, she was the subject of many exhibitions in Mexico and the United States — and after 1990 in England as well.  When she died at age 94, Carrington was believed to be the last of the Surrealists.

In May 2024 her work Les Distractions de Dagobert was sold for £22.5 million at Sotheby's auction house in New York. At the time, this was a record amount paid for a work by a British-born female artist.  Les Distractions de Dagobert is an oil on canvas painting from 1945. 

Les Distractions de Dagobert - Painted by Leonora Carrington in 1945
Les Distractions de Dagobert - Painted by Leonora Carrington in 1945

At public auction for the first time in three decades, the work reveals a realm of infinite possibility. The divine and the terrestrial, flora and fauna entangle with one another in a captivating dance. Tonight’s sale makes Carrington the 4th highest selling Surrealist artist of all time and the 5th highest selling woman artist of any era.



References and Sources of Information

Leonora Carrington | English-born Mexican painter and sculptor [Encyclopaedia Britannica]

Leonora Carrington: the artist who ran away to Mexico [Art UK]

DOORS OF PERCEPTION - Step into the strange world of Leonora Carrington [The World of Interiors]

Crookhey Hall, Cockerham. Country House, now used as school.
Listed on the National Heritage List for England.


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