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Leonora Carrington (English/Mexican b. 1917)

The Giantess also known as The Guardian of the Egg

Leonora Carrington (English/Mexican b. 1917)
The Giantess
also known as The Guardian of the Egg
tempera on wood panel
47¼ x 27¼ in. (120 x 69.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1947.
Edward James Esq., West Dean Park, Chichester, West Sussex.
The Edward James Collection, West Dean Park, Christie's, London, 5 June 1986, lot 1656 (illustrated in color).
Galería Theo, Barcelona.
Private collection, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Leonora Carrington, New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, 1948, no. 7 (illustrated).
Town and Country magazine, Volume 103, no. 4316, January 1949, p. 30 (illustrated in color).
H. Marquié, Métaphores surréalistes dans des imaginaires féminins. Quêtes, seuils et suspensions; souffles du surréel au travers d'espaces picturaux et chorégraphiques: parcours dans les oeuvres de Leonora Carrginton, Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey et Carolyn Carslon, Villeneuve d'Ascq, France, Théses/Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 1992, p. 941, no. 162 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Leonora Carrington: Una Retrospectiva, Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, 1994, p. 80, no. 17 (illustrated in color).
W. Chadwick, Leonora Carrington: La Realidad de la Imaginación, Mexico City, Ediciones Era, 1994, no. 19 (illustrated in color).
T. Agnati, Leonora Carrington: Il surrealismo al femminile, Milan, Selene Edizioni, 1997 (illustrated in color).
M.A. Caws, ed., Surrealist Painters and Poets: An Anthology, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001, p. 146 (illustrated).
L. Andrade, Leonora Carrington: Historia en Dos Tiempos, Mexico City, Ediciones Corunda, 2002 (illustrated in color).
S.L. Aberth, Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, Lund Humphries, Hampshire, United Kingdom, 2004, p. 78, no. 50 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, The Talismanic Lens: Leonora Carrington, San Francisco, Frey Norris Gallery Annex, p. 7, Fig. 7 (illustrated in color).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Leonora Carrington, 24 Feburary- 13 March 1948, no. 7.
Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Leonora Carrington: Una Retrospectiva, September- November 1994, no. 17.

Lot Essay

An ingenious fabulist and a humanist in the most universal sense, Carrington has for more than eighty years plumbed the mysteries of an intimate, hermetic universe of her own creation. As mysterious to herself as she is to others, she once acknowledged, her paintings explore themes of enchantment and transformation, describing a reality at once magical and miraculous. Nurtured on fairy tales and Celtic lore as a child by her Irish mother, Carrington has long plied a richly original and haunting imagination in her paintings, which intimate strange affinities between the visible and invisible worlds.

Carrington reached her artistic maturity in the first decade after her arrival in Mexico in 1942, at the age of twenty-five. The consummate femme-enfant of the Surrealist circle in Paris, with which she had been associated since 1938, Carrington suffered a nervous breakdown in 1940 following the wartime internment of her lover, Max Ernst, in southern France. Later incarcerated in a Spanish mental institution and treated for a mild psychosis, Carrington eventually escaped and found asylum in Mexico following an expedient marriage to Renato Leduc, a Mexican diplomat and old friend. The harrowing experience of her institutionalization would inspire her memoir, Down Below, 1944, a mystical remembrance of her dementia and a painfully visceral glimpse into the nature of madness. More than a documentary account, Carrington's text engages her contemporary reading of alchemical texts and occult folklore along with her growing awareness of "the need to escape patriarchal authority represented by figures of doctor, father, and lover and its silencing of women," as Whitney Chadwick has remarked.

The written account of [Carrington's] descent into madness, simultaneously lucid and hallucinatory, includes confrontations with powerful female images: Elizabeth I and Woman as Sun, Moon, and Trinity. . . . Carrington's images seek the reintegration of female powers in a world brought to holocaust by the demands of the male ego.[1]

The Giantess, its eponymous figure a luminous and magnificent presence, embodies the archetypal and monumental females that Carrington conjured in her memoir and which emerged in her painting upon her arrival in Mexico. Embraced by the European expatriate community, which included Luis Buñuel, Benjamin Péret, and her future husband Emerico 'Chiqui' Weisz, Carrington developed a close friendship with the artist Remedios Varo, whose presence in Mexico, she later claimed, would change her life. "Fellow travelers on a long and intense journey that led them to explore the deepest resources of their creative lives," Chadwick has written, Carrington and Varo would together define a female-centric movement within Surrealism, autonomous and fully vested in feminine sensibility and intuition.[2]

Carrington explores the feminine affinities with nature in the present work, in which the towering giantess allegorically commands the flora and fauna of the earth, sea and sky. "In everybody," Carrington once declared, "there is an inner bestiary."[3] Carrington felt a special kinship with animals--particularly with hyenas, with whose wildness and defiance she identified--and their presence here, in a Bosch-like landscape, suggests the harmonious constellation of organic life. Deeply stimulated by her reading of Robert Gravess The White Goddess in 1949, Carrington explored the cult of the Mother Goddess in paintings such as The Giantess, drawing out the psychic prowess of the Goddess, her regenerative life-giving properties, and her fertile creative powers. This Goddess-centered spirituality, benevolent and nurturing, emanates from the giantess: the birds flock from her robes, and between her palms she clasps a mysterious black egg, perhaps the source of new life. Painted in softly gleaming tones that recall the techniques of the Old Masters, The Giantess embodies Carrington's fascination with a mystical femininity and the enchantments of the cosmic world.

Abby McEwen.

[1] W. Chadwick, Leonora Carrington: The Mexican Years, 1943-1985, San Francisco, The Mexican Museum, 1991, 12.
[2] Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, London, Thames and Hudson, 1985, 194.
[3] Leonora Carrington, quoted in Susan L. Aberth, Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, Burlington, VT, Lund Humphries, 2004, 32.


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