10 Female Surrealists You Should Know

If we go by some of the history books, they were merely lovers, wives, and muses. The surrealist movement is defined by the philosophical, revolutionary personalities that populated it — and many would have us believe they were all men. This review of Hungarian painter Judith Reigl by surrealist founder André Breton sums up the problem with the movement’s patronizing attitude toward its female artists: “It seems so unlikely that the ship sweeping forward could be steered by a woman’s hand that some quite exceptional force must be assumed to be helping to drive it along.” The surrealists aimed to free the unconscious, resulting in dreamlike, illogical scenes. Apparently a woman’s inner world never seemed so terrifying. Continuing our women in male-dominated art movements series (parts 1, 2, and 3), here are some starting points about ten female surrealists you should know.

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Leonora Carrington

“I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist,” British-born surrealist Leonora Carrington once wrote. Her fascination with the early 19th-century art movement started well before meeting her lover, the artist Max Ernst. Their relationship became a great source of pain for her after he fled the Nazis, leaving her behind. It sparked a mental breakdown, the experience of which she channeled into her novel, Down Below. But Carrington’s contributions to surrealism have little to do with Ernst. One of her first major surrealist works was the 1938 painting The Inn of the Dawn Horse, a dark self-portrait. Horses and animals appear throughout her work as guardians and mages. The year prior, she participated in the Exposition internationale du surrealisme at the Galerie des Beaux Arts in Paris. Carrington found a home in Mexico where she’s regarded as a “national treasure.” The Guardian writes:

Leonora detested what she called the “over-intellectualisation” of her work. She believed that its interpretation was in the eye, and the mind, of the beholder and, to that end, she resisted all attempts to get her to explain, or dissect, what she had painted or sculpted. Like her, the work was funny, witty, wry and wise. Like her, it was questioning, probing, disquieting and complex.