Sunday, June 23, 2024

Leonora Carrington, British-Mexican artist, makes history at auction

The British-born painter Leonora Carrington, who fled war-torn Europe to Mexico City in 1942, has become one of the five most valuable women artists in the world after one of her paintings sold for US $28.5 million.

“Les Distractions de Dagobert,” painted two years after Carrington settled in the capital, sold at Sotheby’s in New York last Wednesday to the Argentine businessman Eduardo Costantini, founder of the Buenos Aires Museum of Latin American Art (Malba).

Black and white photo of artist Leonora Carrington with paintbrush in her hand, sitting on a table in a traditional huipil, near her painting on an easel
The artist in 1963 while working on “The Magical World of the Maya” for Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology.

With this sale, Carrington broke her own record, which had stood at US $3.3 million in 2022. “Les Distractions de Dagobert” itself was actually sold 30 years ago for less than US $500,000.

Back then, Constantini was outbid. 

The painting “is one of the most admired works in the history of Surrealism and an unparalleled masterpiece of Latin American art,” Constantini said after the sale, adding that this time, he wouldn’t let the piece get away.

“I said, ‘This time, I can’t fail again,'” Constantini said in a video about the sale produced by Sotheby’s. 

“Les Distractions de Dagobert” is widely considered an icon of its author’s surreal world. Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s head of impressionist and modern art in New York, called it “the definitive masterpiece of Leonora Carrington’s long and storied career, bearing all the hallmarks of the artist at her absolute height.”

The work’s title references Dagobert, a Merovingian monarch who ruled the Kingdom of the Franks in the early 7th century. On the canvas, Carrington captures a tapestry of vignettes ranging from extinct volcanoes, lakes of fire and aquascapes to hybrid creatures and mysterious rituals, in a composition that represents the four elements.

Outbid 30 Years Ago, Eduardo Costantini Finally Won This Leonora Carrington Masterpiece at Auction

Eduardo Constantini, who bought the painting after being outbid on it at auction 30 years ago, speaks about his love of “Les Distractions de Dagobert,” by Leonora Carrington in a video produced by Sotheby’s.

According to Sotheby’s, the imagery draws from the Irish mythology that Carrington learned about as a child, as well as the Kabbalah and Indigenous Mexican cosmology. The painting’s technique “is a testament to Carrington’s technical brilliance,” the auction house added.

For Anna Di Stasi, senior vice president and head of Latin American art at Sotheby’s, “Les Distractions de Dagobert” is “an achievement only possible in 1940s Mexico.” 

Born in Lancashire, England in 1917, Carrington joined upon arriving in Mexico a community of “exiled” and native Surrealists. These figures included Spanish painter Remedios Varo, the Austrian artist Wolfgang Paalen, French poet and artist Alice Rahon and Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Carrington’s son Gabriel Weisz Carrington, who is a professor of comparative literature at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, (UNAM) said that her work “developed a very personal interpretation of Surrealism, influenced by motherhood.” 

This historic auction comes as part of increased interest in female artists associated with the Surrealist movement — a path led by Kahlo. In 2021, Kahlo’s painting “Diego y yo” sold for the historic sum of US $34.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York. This was the highest price ever fetched by a work by a Latin American artist, and the second highest price achieved at auction for a female artist.

Breaking another record, Carrington is now the most valuable UK-born female artist. According to Sotheby’s, the value of her pieces now surpass works from her fellow Surrealists Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst — the latter of whom she was once romantically involved with.

With reports from El País and The Guardian

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