Leonora Carrington Masterpiece Could Fetch Over $12M at Auction

This year, on the centennial of André Breton’s landmark 1924 “Manifesto of Surrealism,” a major work by one of the movement’s icons is headed to the auction block. On May 15, Sotheby’s will offer Leonora Carrington’s major painting “Les Distractions de Dagobert” (1945) in its Modern Evening Sale in New York, where it is expected to fetch between $12 to $18 million, several times the artist’s previous record of $3.3 million.

Born in Lancashire, England, Carrington was frequently at odds with her well-to-do family and was expelled from two Catholic boarding schools due to rebellious behavior. Exasperated by her antics and overactive imagination, her family sent her to Florence and then Paris, only for her to briefly return to England as a wholly uninterested teenage debutante. She enrolled in French Modernist Amédée Ozenfant’s art academy in 1936, where she was introduced to the Surrealist movement and first encountered the works of Max Ernst.

Carrington met Ernst at a party in London in 1937, and their relationship enabled her move to Paris and then Saint Martin d’Ardèche shortly after. She began to focus on mythological tales, dreamlike compositions, and anthropomorphic animals in her own work. Ernst was abruptly arrested upon the onset of World War II, leading him to flee to the United States and Carrington to Madrid, where she was later institutionalized for severe anxiety attacks and hallucinations.

After being treated with electroshock therapy and barbituates, Carrington was discharged to a sanitarium in South Africa but escaped en route and was able to secure travel to Mexico alongside various other European artists who fled to the country during the war.

Deeply inspired by the arts landscape there, Carrington lived on and off in Mexico City for the rest of her life, and leaned further into intercultural mysticism in her work upon developing strong ties with fellow Surrealist Remedios Varo.

Within two years of Carrington’s arrival in Mexico, she completed “Les Distractions de Dagobert,” painted in egg tempera on masonite board. In it, interconnected vignettes consisting of tightly rendered figures and landscapes reference Hieronymus Bosch’s tableaux, Irish mythology, the kabbalah, anthropomorphic hybrids, Indigenous cosmologies rooted in Mexico, and the titular medieval Frankish King Dagobert of the Merovingian dynasty, remembered for his Dionysian interests.

Carrington achieved the metaphysical composition’s radiance by masterfully layering thin glazes. In a statement about the painting’s upcoming sale, Julian Dawes, head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Sotheby’s New York, described the work as “the definitive masterpiece of Leonora Carrington’s long and storied career, bearing all the hallmarks of the artist at her absolute height.”

Carrington is remembered for her spirited rejection of women’s prescribed role as muses or femme enfants of the Surrealist movement.

The painting enters the market for the first time in nearly 30 years as part of a greater recent focus on women Surrealists. It will be displayed at Sotheby’s New York starting May 3 for the pre-auction exhibition until it goes under the hammer.

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