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Leonora Carrington (British/Mexican 1917-2011)
Leonora Carrington (British/Mexican 1917-2011)

Neighbourly Advice

Leonora Carrington (British/Mexican 1917-2011)
Neighbourly Advice
signed and dated 'Leonora Carrington, 1947' (lower left)
tempera on masonite
10 x 15 in. (25.4 x 38.1 cm.)
Painted in 1947.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Private collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1948).
By descent to the present owner.
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Leonora Carrington, 24 February- 13 March 1948, no. 6.

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Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

Neighborly Advice, painted by Leonora Carrington in 1947, is one of the most significant works by this surrealist artist to come to light in years. Carrington's first son Gabriel was born in 1946 and her second son Pablo in 1948, thus in 1947 she was pregnant and caring for an infant. This did nothing to diminish neither the quantity nor quality of her painting but rather she stated that having children was an unexpectedly profound and joyful experience that aided her creativity, as the many remarkable paintings from 1945-48 amply attest to. In fact, Neighborly Advice was exhibited in her one-woman show in New York City at the prestigious Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1948. The exquisite jewel-tones and delicate veils of color in this work reveal her newly acquired proficiency with tempera, a medium she was devoted to for it's historic and "magical" uses. Aspects of the painting look backwards to work recently completed, while other parts look forward to works she will create, for example in the upper right is a golden boat that is a remarkable prefiguration of the wooden child's cradle she will create in 1949.

Having children must have provoked memories of her own youth in England and the family she was estranged from. In 1947 she also painted Crookhey Hall, the Edwardian mansion in Lancashire she called home during her formative years. Here a pale wraith of a woman flees the gloomy and menacing edifice, a self-portrait of her flight from the stifling conventionality imposed upon her. The domestic interior portrayed in Neighborly Advice bears a resemblance to the cavernous Great Hall in Crookhey Hall, replete with the lacey carved balustrade of the upper floor. A game of hide and seek is being played as two women conceal a small child in a chest, while an older girl, head bowed and counting, carefully makes her way along a magic carpet (that appears to be moving under her feet) in order to reach a staircase to the upper levels. The two women here are resplendent in colorful Victorian garb and, particularly in their fanciful hats, resemble the ladies having tea in The Old Maids, (also painted in 1947).

The composition of Neighborly Advice calls to mind Carrington's masterwork of 1945, The House Opposite, a painting that has received much scholarly attention as demonstrating a landmark transition to a new style. Above the central spectacle, in sectioned off quadrants like the predellas of the Quattrocentro Renaissance paintings Carrington so loved, a variety of scenes unfold. Going from left to right, the first cubicle contains a person sitting upright in a canopy bed as an individual moves through a door into the next room which contains a person climbing a ladder to an aperture in the ceiling revealing stars in a night sky, while the final third room contains a group of wildly dancing figures under the light of a chandelier. The figures are all a ghostly white, begging the question--are they from the world of dreams, imagination, faery? Or do these architectural compartments represent layers of the unconscious, with their memories, wishes and fears? Like a personal totem, in the lower left corner is Carrington's iconic rocking horse, seen in The House Opposite and most famously in her painting Inn of the Dawn Horse of 1937-38.
The same girl and boy appear in another 1947 painting by Carrington, Night, Nursery, Everything which also features nighttime games and two odd female characters (not to mention an arc-shaped child's cradle). The artist recalled being relegated to the margins of the household as a child ("we were neither seen nor heard") and enjoying the freedom it allowed her imagination. When contemplating the toys strewn across the floor of Neighborly Advice, or the strange spectral scenes occurring in the "margins" of the household, one recalls Carrington's haunting statement "Do you think anyone escapes their childhood? I don't think we do. That kind of feeling that you have in childhood of being very mysterious."[1]

Susan L. Aberth, Associate Professor, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

1 "Leonora Carrington and the House of Fear," produced and directed by Kim Evans. Sixty-minute documentary. Omnibus, BBC, 1992.

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