Leonora Carrington, surrealist known for haunting artwork, 94

Above, a detail of “Aardvark Groomed by Widows,’’ a 1997 work by Leonora Carrington. She was part of a famous wave of artistic and political emigres who came to Mexico in the 1930s and ’40s. Above, a detail of “Aardvark Groomed by Widows,’’ a 1997 work by Leonora Carrington. She was part of a famous wave of artistic and political emigres who came to Mexico in the 1930s and ’40s. (Brewster Arts Limited)
By Mark Stevenson
Associated Press / May 27, 2011

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MEXICO CITY — Leonora Carrington, a British-born painter, writer, and sculptor who was considered one of the last of the original surrealists, has died at age 94.

Ms. Carrington was known for her haunting, dreamlike works that often focused on strange ritual-like scenes with birds, cats, unicorn-like creatures, and other animals as onlookers or seeming participants.

Her death was confirmed yesterday by Mexico’s National Arts Council.

Once the lover of German artist Max Ernst, Ms. Carrington was also part of a famous wave of artistic and political emigres who arrived in Mexico in the 1930s and ’40s. In the male-dominated realm of surrealism, she was a member of a rare trio of Mexico-based female surrealists along with Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo.

“She was the last great living surrealist,’’ said longtime friend and poet Homero Aridjis. “She was a living legend.’’

Friend and promoter Dr. Isaac Masri said she died Wednesday of old age, after being hospitalized. “She had a great life, and a dignified death, as well, without suffering,’’ he said.

“She created mythical worlds in which magical beings and animals occupy the main stage, in which cobras merge with goats and blind crows become trees,’’ the National Arts Council wrote, adding, “These were some of the images that sprang from a mind obsessed with portraying a reality that transcends what can be seen.’’

She wrote magazine and newspaper articles, novels, essays, and poems, and made thousands of paintings, sculptures, collages, and tapestries that were exhibited in Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo, and many other artistic centers.

Ms. Carrington was born in Clayton Green, Lancashire, England, and moved to Mexico during World War II.

For many years she divided her time between Mexico City, New York, and Chicago, but her last longtime home and inspiration was Mexico, once famously dubbed a “surrealist country’’ by writer and poet Andre Breton for its colorful and sometimes grotesque costumes, masks, rituals, and dances. That meshed well with the surrealists, whose works were marked by irony, non sequiturs, strange juxtapositions, and fantasy.

Born to a wealthy family, Ms. Carrington was the second of four children of an English textile-maker and an Irish mother who painted small murals as a hobby.

When she was 9, she became so rebellious the family sent her to religious schools, where she was expelled for misbehavior.

Later they sent her to a boarding school in Florence and then to a private school for young ladies in Paris. She was miserable in both.

In the mid-1930s, she lived with Ernst in Paris, where she became friends with Breton, the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, and other members of the surrealist inner circle. She held her first surrealist painting exhibits in 1938 in both Paris and Amsterdam.

War broke out with Nazi Germany and in 1939, Ernst was imprisoned at a concentration camp in Largentiere as an enemy alien by the French authorities.

The following year, Ms. Carrington fled to Spain. She caused a scandal at the British Embassy in Madrid, loudly threatening to plot to kill Adolf Hitler, and was committed to an insane asylum in Santander, from which she eventually escaped and made her way to Lisbon.

Ms. Carrington was saved by writer Renato Leduc, whom she had met during her Paris days when he was working as a Mexican consulate official. They married — apparently to get Ms. Carrington out of Europe — and went to New York and later to Mexico City.

She became a Mexican citizen; she and Leduc divorced, and she married the Hungarian-born writer-photographer Emerico “Chiki’’ Weisz in 1946. They had two sons.

Ms. Carrington leaves her sons, Gabriel and Pablo, who became a painter in his own right.