Leonora Carrington was born in Lancashire and trained as an artist in London in the 1930s.

In 1937 she met the German Surrealist artist Max Ernst and the pair became lovers. The couple moved first to Paris and then to a farmhouse called Les Alliberts in a village north of Avignon.

This portrait of Max Ernst was painted by Carrington at Les Alliberts around 1939 and the influence of Surrealism can clearly be seen. The artist had first been introduced to the movement through its writings and her visit to the ‘International Surrealist Exhibition’ in London in 1936.

Ernst is shown in the foreground wearing a robe of red fur or feathers which ends in a fishtail. On one foot he wears a striped yellow sock and in his hand he carries a green lantern containing the figure of a rearing horse. The landscape behind him is shown covered in ice, with the figure of another horse frozen and dripping with icicles.

Carrington regularly resisted interpretation of her work, but writers and historians have nevertheless suggested readings of this picture. Horses were a central subject for the artist, often acting as surrogate self-portraits. So here the horses can be seen as Carrington frozen and immobile in the background, and as a prisoner trapped by Ernst in the lantern. Author Marina Warner has written that this portrait ‘captures the ambivalence of [Carrington’s] feelings of love and liberation as well as owning up to the emotional captivity their liaison also represented for her’.

Carrington and Ernst separated during the Second World War, with Carrington eventually settling in Mexico for the rest of her long life.

Portrait of Max Ernst entered the collection of Pegeen Guggenheim, possibly via her mother, Peggy Guggenheim (Ernst’s third wife), and, until now, has remained in private hands. It becomes a major addition – the first by Carrington – to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s world-class
holdings of Surrealist art.

Provenance

The artist; presented as a parting gift to Max Ernst in December 1942 when she left New York for Mexico; Gifted to Pegeen Guggenheim (1925-1967), New York and Paris; Gifted by the above to her husband, the artist Ralph Rumney (1934-2002), Paris, possibly

Oil


Scottish National Gallery

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