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Leonora Carrington’s Magnum Opus to Highlight Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction


T he most significant work by the celebrated Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, Les Distractions de Dagobert, will be offered during Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction in New York, where it will become the most valuable work by the artist ever offered at auction with an estimate of $12 – 18 million. Appearing on the market for the first time in nearly 30 years, the work is widely recognized as the defining masterpiece of Carrington’s career, showcasing rich surreal imagery and luminous color on a large scale. The work was painted in 1945, just two years after Carrington’s arrival in Mexico from Europe as part of a wave of Surrealist artists who emigrated to the Americas in the wake of the war, signaling the beginning of a period of transformational productivity and artistic independence for the artist. Once in Mexico City, alongside the community of “exiled” Surrealists including Remedios Varo, Wolfgang Paalen, Alice Rahon, and others, as well as modern Mexican painters including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Carrington shook off the role of “muse” assigned to her by André Breton to achieve an unprecedented level of mastery and freedom in her painting. Les Distractions de Dagobert is the crowning achievement of this critical period, the most significant milestone in her artistic career, and a major landmark in Surrealism.

“Les Distractions de Dagobert is the definitive masterpiece of Leonora Carrington’s long and storied career, bearing all the hallmarks of the artist at her absolute height. The painting pioneers the visionary style that we associate with surrealism today, while equally evocative of Hieronymus Bosch’s anarchic tableaus, bridging artistic boundaries to achieve an entirely new language. Like Carrington herself, the painting defies easy categorization, existing on an astral plane of its own unique being.”

Today Les Distractions de Dagobert epitomizes how the Surrealist movement evolved into a global artistic phenomenon that continues to influence contemporary art and culture, 100 years after it was first codified in the Surrealist Manifesto. The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, titled The Milk of Dreams, used Carrington’s work as a thematic framework, exploring the definition and boundaries of humanity and the relationship between people and the natural world. Throughout Carrington’s work, in which a mysterious and intoxicatingly charming universe of infinite potential unfolds, there are echoes of thematic threads pulled by some of the leading living artists featured in the Biennale, from Golden Lion winner Cecilia Vicuña’s poetic examinations of history and memory to Firelei Baez’s lush images of human-plant-animal hybrids. Carrington’s visual style is now deeply ingrained into the Surrealist popular imagination, whose resonance can be seen across a wide spectrum of contemporary artists working today, including Cecily Brown, María Berrío, Shara Hughes, Emma Webster, Christina Quarles and Ewa Juszkiewicz.

Les Distractions de Dagobert will go on public exhibition in Los Angeles this week from April 17–19, before travelling to New York where it will go on view starting 3 May ahead of the Modern Evening Auction on 15 May.

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  • Leonora Carrington, Les Distractions de Dagobert. Estimate: 12,000,000–18,000,000 USD
    Leonora Carrington, Les Distractions de Dagobert. Estimate: 12,000,000–18,000,000 USD
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus