Tag Archives: leonora carrington

Leonora Carrington’s Scenes inspired Hieronymus Bosch’s Fantasies

Where does the real end and the surreal begin? You could spend hours staring at Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, pondering this question. And one modern artist did just that, before her mind went on a strange journey.

The famous fourteenth century painting is full of tiny figures – human, plant, animal, and monster – in a three-panel landscape thought to represent the Bible’s Heaven, the Garden of Eden, and Hell. On close observation, these figures are engaged in lots of strange activities, some definitely sexual, others, just weird.

Hung in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, the Dutch artist’s striking scene intrigued a young Surrealist, 450 years after its creation. Leonora Carrington encountered Bosch’s works here while escaping the 1939 Nazi invasion of France, and her own art found a muse.

Left: The Temptation of St. Anthony, Leonora Carrington, 1947; Right: The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch, c 1500-1525

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Carrington’s midcentury Temptation is one of her only works on a Christian theme and very obviously influence by Bosch’s painting of the same Biblical story.

Commenting on it, the artist said: “Naturally, one could ask why the venerable holy man has three heads, to which one could always reply, why not?”

This playful yet cryptic response was typical of Carrington’s character. Inspired by Bosch, her surreal paintings are just as mysterious.

Left: The Giantess, Leonora Carrington, 1947; Right: The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1500

Choice of symbolic imagery is key in these two paintings.

Like Bosch, Carrington depicts hunters in an uncertain landscape and winged fish and seafarers floating in an ocean-like sky. Her central giantess holds an egg while birds fly from her cloak.

Figures, animal, man, and object, interacting in a strange way… sound familiar?

Left: Adieu Ammenotep, Leonora Carrington, 1960; Right: The Stone Operation, Hieronymous Bosch, c. 1494

Both artists explore the boundaries of magic and medicine.

A man extracts a “stone of madness” from the head of a patient in Bosch’s The Stone Operation. His funnel-like hat suggests he’s less doctor and more charlatan, and the “stone” is a flower. One previously removed sits on the café-style table.

Carrington’s figures also perform a magical operation over the mummified body of Amenhotep, an Egyptian pharaoh. In a kind of medical operating theater, figures pull red strings through the body, whose insides are a flower.

For this Surrealist, Bosch as muse is clear. But, Carrington’s mind was filled with strange and uncanny thoughts long before she could release them in paint.

She crossed the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and visited the Prado Museum in 1939. However, it was not long before the artist suffered a psychotic break and was mandated to an asylum. She describes the traumatic experience in her memoir, “Down Below,” (1944, revised in 1988). For Carrington, the line between real and surreal is never drawn.

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Learn more about Carrington’s life and career here: https://www.theartstory.org/artist-carrington-leonora.htm

In the documentary film “La Novia del Viento” by Andrea Di Castro, Delmari Romero Keith and Rafael Segovia, the artist gives her final interview in 2010, one year before her death. Watch an excerpt here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBa5Uy9Yl0I

Magic and Mystery, Fantasy and Fashion: Leonora Carrington in Pop Culture

Leonora Carrington might not be as well known as some other Surrealist artists, but her art has been quietly influential in popular culture and fashion.

Left: Madonna in "Bedtime Story," 1995 Right: The Giantess, Leonora Carrington, c. 1947

Left: Madonna in “Bedtime Story,” 1995; Right: The Giantess, Leonora Carrington, c. 1947

In 1995, Madonna’s “Bedtime Story” music video gained fame as an homage to the work of several female Surrealists. Directed by Mark Romanek, a filmmaker of most recent fame for pop singer Taylor’s Swift’s “Shake It Off” video and rapper Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” art film at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, it includes a scene in which the singer opens her robe to release a flock of birds, much like the central figure in Carrington’s The Giantess (ca. 1947).

The dialogue between Surrealist art and fashion has a precedent long before Madonna. Artist Salvador Dali collaborated with designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s, and Surrealism continues to inspire contemporary designers. (Visit this Elle slideshow for some recent examples!)

In 2013, W Magazine published a Surrealist-themed fashion editorial photographed at the historical estate Las Pozas in Mexico.

Here are a few photographs from the W feature that echo certain figures and motifs from Leonora Carrington’s art:

Left: Tilda Swinton for W Magazine, 2013; Right: Darvault, Leonora Carrington, c. 1950

Top left: Tilda Swinton for W Magazine, 2013; Top right and bottom: The House Opposite, Leonora Carrington, c. 1945

Left: Tilda Swinton for W Magazine, 2013; Right: Green Tea, or La Dame Ovale, Leonora Carrington, 1945

Left: Tilda Swinton for W Magazine, 2013; Right: Tuesday, Leonora Carrington, 1987

In addition to paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, Carrington created costume designs, stage designs, and playful, esoteric items such as decorative masks over her long career. Surely she would have enjoyed knowing that her work is still a source of ideas for creative artists of all kinds.

Learn more about Leonora Carringtons life and career here:

View the entire W feature here:

Las Pozas is located near the city of Xilitla in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. It was once owned by Edward James, a major patron of Surrealist art. You can read more about it here: www.xilitla.org

For more analysis of Madonnas Bedtime Story video, see here: