MILAN – The troubled relationship between Max Ernst and Leonora Carrington marks both of them deeply. Painters and surrealists loved each other intensely for years but life and war made their love difficult if not impossible. THE MEETING – In 1936, Leonora discovered Ernst’s works at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London. She immediately attracted to the surrealist genius, she met him a year later at a party held in London. “I fell in love with Max’s paintings before I fell in love with him,” she said later. The artists returned together to Paris and Ernst left his wife for her. In 1938, from Paris they settled in Saint Martin d’Ardeche in the south of France. The couple collaborated and supported each other by living an idyllic rural life.
Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington and Paul Eluard by Lee Miller THE WAR – With the outbreak of the Second World War, Ernst, as a German, was arrested by the French authorities. Interned in a prison camp, he painted while awaiting the visits of his beloved. Thanks to the intercession of Paul Eluard , and other friends, including the American journalist Varian Fry, the painter was released a few weeks later. A few months later, however, the man, suspected of being in contact with enemies, was imprisoned again. The painter’s psychic balance began to feel the effects of the sad events. Max managed to leave the camp while in the meantime the girl had taken refuge in Spain, hoping to obtain a visa for both of them.
Leonora Carrington, Portrait of Max Ernst (1939; private collection) INTERNATION – In Spain, continuing to suffer from anxiety attacks, she was imprisoned in the psychiatric clinic in Santander, run by the pro-Nazi doctor Luis Morales. It was a terrible time for Carrington. The young woman underwent heavy treatment with cardiazol, a drug that she administered in large doses causes convulsions. She left the clinic thanks to her father who, however, wanted her to be hospitalized in a facility in South Africa. Leonora arrived in Lisbon to embark but managed to take refuge in the Mexican embassy. The Mexican friend and diplomat Renato Leduc was able to help her and avoid a new hospitalization. SEPARATE BUT CLOSE– In the meantime, Max Ernst also arrives in Marseille. It was here that he met the American collector Peggy Guggenheim who proposed that Max escape to the United States. The two began a relationship but Max still loved Leonora. “Carrington was the only woman Max ever loved,” says the famous collector. In Lisbon, Max and Leonora meet again without getting back together. The passion was held back by the contingent needs and by the severe traumas suffered.
Max Ernst, Leonora in the morning light (1940; private collection) AMERICA– Leonora accepted the “fake” marriage with Leduc to escape the control of the family and leave Europe. In New York, she initially continued to date Max, but only as a friend, Peggy herself was aware that her partner was still related to her ex. In any case, Leonora separated from Leduc a few months after arriving in the United States. The painter moved to Mexico , where she remained for the rest of her life without seeing her Max again.

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