Leonora Carrington Masterpiece Sells for $28.5M, Shattering Records

Eduardo F. Costantini, the Argentinian businessman, real-estate developer, and founder of the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), is the confirmed buyer of a 1945 masterpiece by the British-born Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington. “Les Distractions de Dagobert” fetched $28.5 million with fees at Sotheby’s in New York last night, May 16, with two bidders sparring until Costantini stepped in with a decisive phone bid that sealed the deal.

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Frida Kahlo, “Diego y yo” (1949), on view at MALBA in Buenos Aires (photo Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

The price achieved eclipses Carrington’s previous auction record of $3.3 million as well as the work’s high estimate of $18 million — and just barely trails the $34.8 million record for any artwork by a Latin American artist, achieved by the 2021 sale of Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait “Diego y yo” (1949), also purchased by Costantini. Kahlo’s piece is now on permanent display in a special darkened gallery at MALBA.

The sale of “Les Distractions de Dagobert,” Sotheby’s said, ranks Carrington in first place among the most valuable UK-born woman artists on the public market — and above fellow Surrealists Max Ernst, with whom she had a love affair, and Salvador Dalí.

The egg tempera on masonite board painting dates from Carrington’s early years in Mexico, where she settled during the war in 1942 and remained for most of her life. Constructed of distinct vignettes superimposed to achieve depth and narrative, the tableau owes its title to the seventh-century Frankish King Dagobert I of the Merovingian dynasty, whose hedonistic excesses are evoked in Carrington’s renderings of otherworldly beings, fiery expanses, and spectral figures. After fleeing a European sanatorium where she was subjected to antipsychotic treatments against her will, Carrington found solace and inspiration in the Latin American country. She encountered a community of Surrealist émigrés including fellow painter Remedios Varo, and her curiosity for ancient forms of knowledge, from Maya texts to the Kabbalah, was allowed to freely blossom.

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Leonora Carrington, “Les Distractions de Dagobert” is now the most expensive work by a British-born woman sold at auction. (image courtesy Sotheby’s)

“Les Distractions de Dagobert” first hit the market three decades ago, when it sold for $475,500, about $1 million today, also at Sotheby’s. In 2017, the house did away with its dedicated Latin American Art sales and began incorporating works in that category into its marquee modern and contemporary auctions. Carrington’s painting was the second most expensive work in Sotheby’s Modern Evening Sale last night, surpassed only by Claude Monet’s “Meules à Giverny” (1893), which fetched $34.8 million.

It remains to be seen whether Carrington’s oeuvre will go on view at Constantini’s private museum, as have other major Latin American works in his collection, including Tarsila do Amaral’s “Abaporu” (1928). Hyperallergic has contacted MALBA to inquire about exhibition plans.

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