Mary Leonora Carrington was born on 6 April 1917 in Chorley, Lancashire. Expelled from two schools for her rebellious behaviour, her family moved her to Mrs Penrose’s Academy of Art in Florence, the beginning of her artistic career. In 1935, she moved to London to study at the Chelsea School of Art before transferring to the (Amédée) Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts. In the summer of 1936, The First International Surrealist Exhibition opened in London at the New Burlington Galleries. The accompanying catalogue would have a formative effect upon Carrington, who not only became familiar with Surrealist ideology and art, but was particularly struck by the work of Max Ernst. The following year she would meet Ernst, and together they travelled to Paris, settling in rue Jacob, where Carrington would join Ernst and the Surrealist milieu socialising both at home and the Café Flore.


With the onset of the Second World War, Ernst was imprisoned in France on account of his German citizenship. Carrington fled to Spain in 1940, but was confined to a mental asylum on arrival having suffered a serious mental breakdown. She would later recount her experience in the book En Bas (‘Down Below’, published 1944), written at André Breton’s behest. Released from asylum with the help of a family friend, Carrington married diplomat Renato Leduc so as to flee Europe. In 1941, the two travelled to New York via Lisbon – where she briefly reignited her relationship with Ernst, who had escaped to Lisbon with a new lover, Peggy Guggenheim.


Carrington remained with Leduc in New York, spending time with the Surrealist emigrés, until 1943, when they moved to Mexico together. Shortly after, their marriage of convenience ended. Carrington would develop a new circle of artist friends in Mexico, including Benjamin Péret, Remedios Varo, Octavio Paz, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and Emerico ‘Chiki’ Weisz, whom she married in 1946. It was in Mexico that Carrington developed her idiosyncratic style, inspired both by Renaissance influences and the mythological characters and superstitions of Mesoamerican culture. She had her first solo exhibition, organised by Edward James, at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, in 1948. Her first solo show in Mexico was at Galería Clardecor in Mexico City (1950). She would also have solo shows at Galerie Pierre, Paris (1952), Galería de Arte Mexicano, Mexico City (1956) and a retrospective at the Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, Mexico City (1960). Though Carrington would return to New York during the 1960s and the 1980s, she spent the majority of the rest of her life in Mexico, painting, sculpting and writing amongst other projects, often in collaboration with close friend Varo. In 1963, she created a mural named El Mundo Magico de los Mayas (Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City), exhibited at the IX Bienal de Pintura, Sao Paolo (1967), and in 1973 designed Mujeres conciencia, a poster for the Women’s Liberation movement in Mexico. Recognised as a major figure in Latin-American Surrealism, Carrington died in Mexico City on 25 May 2011.


Carrington’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; the Tate Collection, London.