Leonora Carrington, ‘Untitled’, 1959, Phillips

From the Catalogue:
Carrington’s enigmatic paintings were influenced by children’s tales such as Alice in Wonderland, English Fairy Tales and The Arabian Nights. These stories populated Carrington’s imagination with princesses and nocturnal creatures such as cats and enchantresses. In the 1950s, when Carrington moved to Mexico, she immersed herself in the study of alchemy and the occult that she transposed into a repertoire of animals and symbols in her works. At this time, Carrington began experimenting with assorted media including polychrome wood sculptures, tapestries, as well as hand-sewing and embroidery. One important work from this experimental phase is Carrington’s arresting Cat Woman (La Grande Dame) from 1951. The present lot, Untitled (1959), is reminiscent not only of the 1951 sculpture but also of Carroll’s Cheshire cat that appeared to Alice. This work is suffused with fantastical and surreal elements, such as the hand sewn lace around the cat’s face and the wires used to symbolize whiskers, which also become sheet music filled with notes, imbuing the piece with a lyrical quality. In Mexico, Carrington formed an enduring friendship with Remedios Varo, with whom she met almost daily in her home filled with cats. Carrington believed Varo’s home had a magical atmosphere and it undoubtedly influenced the symbols and iconography she depicted in her works. During this time, her life was also entwined with Edward James, the renowned Surrealist collector. James was investing his fortune in the construction of an extraordinary open air sanctuary for animals in the tropical jungle of Xilitla. He invited Carrington to paint the murals of this sanctuary that came to represent, for Carrington, the incarnation of Alice in Wonderland. Not surprisingly, the animal world became a recurrent theme in her work, as in this remarkable cat. This period in Carrington’s work was also influenced by Coptic and Eastern Medieval figurative art, as seen in the red and white dots throughout the surface of the present lot, which represent the tree of life, known for its white and red berries that bestow immortality. More importantly, this work reflects Carrington’s feeling for animals as stated in a letter, “If gods exist, I don’t believe they have human form: I prefer to envision deities with the appearance of zebras, cats, or birds. Love guides all these species: only man makes a deity of Hate with his wars, his puritanism, the oppressions against his own species and the nature around him” (Seán Kissane, Leonora Carrington – Irish Museum of Modern Art, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2013, p. 89). Ultimately, when confronted with this powerful and beguiling creature, we are reminded that there is no key to easily decipher Carrington’s work, yet this sculptural painting attests to her innovative pictorial language, ensuring her place as one of the most important Surrealist painters from the twentieth century.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed and dated "1959 Leonora" lower edge

We would like to thank Dr. Salomon Grimberg for his kind assistance in cataloguing this work.

Collection of Anita Brenner, Mexico City (acquired from the artist)
Thence by descent to Estate of Susannah Glusker
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Leonora Carrington

Painter and novelist Leonora Carrington redefined female symbolism and imagery in Surrealism. Working in oil painting, traditional bronze and cast iron sculpture, and mixed-media sculpture that incorporated wood, glass, and iron objects, Carrington, a one-time romantic companion and muse of the Surrealist Max Ernst, shared Ernst’s concerns with the dream world and the symbolic intermediaries connecting it to reality. Rejecting the Surrealist ideal of woman as a source of creative energy, she turned to the animal world, the occult, and Celtic myth for hers. El Juglar (1954) is one of Carrington’s most renowned works, a dream landscape of horses, imaginary creatures, occultist motifs, and autobiographical references. She is most often associated with the Spanish artist and fellow female Surrealist Remedios Varo, with whom she had close ties.

British-Mexican, 1917-2011, Clayton-le-Woods, United Kingdom, based in Mexico City, Mexico