Great Paintings: And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur! by Leonora Carrington

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And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur!
Source: New York Times

Although many art historians will tell you that the Surrealist movement began in Europe, it was truly nurtured in the central Americas. As World War II loomed over Europe, many Surrealist painters fled to Mexico, where great painters like Frida Kahlo were already exploring Surrealist themes and ideas. These artists formed a vibrant community and thrived on Mexico’s dynamic art scene. The rich history of central American visual arts made Mexico an even more appealing home for European expat painters. Surrealist painter Andre Breton described the appeal of Mexico to Surrealist artists in the following words:

“Mexico, half-awake of its mythological past keeps evolving under the protection of Xochipilli, God of the flowers and lyric poetry, and Coatlicue, Goddess of the Earth and of the violent death (…) This power of conciliation of life and death is without a doubt the principal attractive that Mexico offers. This keeps an open record of endless sensations, from the most benign to the most insidious.”

Among this group of Surrealist expats was Leonora Carrington, a British painter who fled Europe after her family tried to have her institutionalized. ( As a side note, you can read more about her life in this great essay from Gallery Wendi Norris, which I used to research Carrington.)

To say that Carrington was an inventive painter is putting it mildly. Her work recalls the outright weirdness of Hieronymus Bosch, mixed with a dash of fairy tale fantasticism and the strange magic of mythology.

And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur! is an excellent example of her work. Here, we see two children gazing upon the fantastical figures of a cow-headed goddess and a pastel, moth-like form. From the right, a humanoid figure dances toward the children. These figures are mysterious and unidentifiable. What they signify is unclear, but it is certain that there are references to the world of mythos. The Minotaur is a reference to Greek mythology, while the two children resemble fairy tale characters Hansel and Gretel. There is a certain brand of mysticism at work here, one that draws the viewer into an unknowable, yet fascinating world.

The title of the painting implies something interrupted, as though the piece is part of a larger, visual world. Carrington was a visionary, both literally and figuratively. She reported that she often had visions of ghosts and animals when she was a child; a fantastical influence that undoubtably impacted her adult work. Carrington was also a writer, and the fantastical tales she composed certainly color her art (or maybe it’s the other way around). And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur! is tantalizing, hinting at a wild and magical story lurking just below the surface.

Yet, as is the case with a great deal of Surrealist art, And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur! is beyond explanation. Such paintings are not designed to be readily understood. The artwork is not driven by narrative. Rather, paintings like And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur! express an emotional landscape, exploring the artist’s inner world, while simultaneously transcending the bounds of consciousness. As writer Siobhan Leddy puts it, “Throughout her life, [Carrington] refused to explain her work…In seeing beyond the visible world, beyond the rational or comprehensible, Carrington leaves us only with abstract terms like ‘magic.’ But perhaps magic is what happens when, as she put it shortly before her death, art ‘comes from somewhere else.’”

Originally published at on July 7, 2020.

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