A surrealist painting in earth tones of a glowing white centaur holding a cornucopia surrounded by plants and animals

Untitled (For Fabrice)

Note: Carrington made this delicate painting on the occasion of the baptism of her godson, the artist Fabrice Vanden Broeck. Carrington commemorated the birth of the baby by depicting a secular nativity scene populated by benevolent animals and mythical symbols that convey the artist’s well wishes for the newborn.

In the center of the composition the child is represented as a young griffin, a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion, and the wings, head, and front legs of an eagle. In antiquity, griffins were often depicted as guardians, and by the Middle Ages they were used in heraldry, representing divine power. Carrington frequently portrayed griffins in her work and referred to them in her novel The Hearing Trumpet. On one hand this creature holds up a set of scales- the baby’s astrological sign, Libra- and on the other a cornucopia, the symbol of abundance and good fortune.

The central figure is surrounded by an adoring group of animals painted in Carrington’s diffuse style over a golden background. A beautifully detailed white serpent, a symbol of wisdom in Carrington’s work, wraps around an espaliered tree which magically bears different types of fruit. On the lower right corner, guarded by a group of scavengers, is another of Carrington’s favored symbols: the egg, representing the world, the possibility for transformation, and the promise and hope of what is to come.

Like Carrington, Fabrice’s parents were artists with esoteric interests. A possible connection between them is found in the Baptism certificate: The godfather was Rodney Collin, a follower of G. I. Gurdjieff, the enigmatic mystic who invented the 4th Way. Collin was sent to Mexico in 1951 by the Gurdjieff foundation in order to establish a foothold in Latin America. Much has been written about Carrington’s involvement with this group. It is more likely that both Carrington and the Vanden Broecks were interested in Collin because of his impressive library of rare books on alchemy and the occult, rather than actual adherence to Gurdjieff. Carrington’s distaste for the man was expressed through satire in her story, The Hearing Trumpet,”[1] in which she based the character of the ridiculous guru, Dr. Gambit, on Gurdjieff.

This painting belongs to a group of objects that Carrington created for children but which are not baby-like. One example is the wooden crib she painted for Norah Horna in 1949:                                       

            “Although Carrington’s whimsy is in evidence, there is none of the treacle-sweet nostalgia usually found in children’s nursery decor…(This is) a piece of Surrealist furniture.”[2]

That Carrington took care with this painting is obvious from the delicate precision of the brushwork and the detail bestowed on each animal. She also inserted herself into the scene in a few ways. The inclusion of the head of a beautiful Ram, her own astrological symbol, with prominence of place reflecting light from the creature’s wings, reveals this godmother watching over the proceedings. The artist herself is associated with the Sphinx by many of her friends, including the Surrealist collector Edward James. Finally, up in the right corner, a lone Shamrock represents Carrington’s home, Ireland. A Shamrock is a young clover which symbolizes good luck and abundance, running themes within this work.

[1] From Marina Werner, “Leonora Carrington Storytelling Imagination,” in Leonora Carrington. Magic Tales, (Mexico City: Museo de Arte Moderno/Monterrey: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, in partnership with Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, 2019), pp. 308

[2] Susan Aberth, “Animal Kingdom,” in Leonora Carrington. Magic Tales, (Mexico City: Museo de Arte Moderno/Monterrey: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, in partnership with Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, 2019), pp. 254