Born into a wealthy family, Carrington was brought up to mingle with the aristocracy and marry ‘well’. Fiercely independent; she had other ideas. Carrington studied painting in London and in June 1937 met the Surrealist artist Max Ernst at a dinner party. She had only just turned twenty, and he was forty-six and on his second marriage. They immediately started a relationship, and she followed him to Paris where she met many of the Surrealists. In 1938, with war looming, Carrington and Ernst moved to the village of Saint-Martin d’Ardèche, near Avignon.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Ernst, who was German, was imprisoned as an enemy alien and Carrington fled France for Spain. While there she suffered a breakdown and ended up in a psychiatric institute in Santander. Her experiences there became the subject of her short story, Down Below, which blends fact and fiction. After her release, Carrington fled to New York before settling in Mexico where she continued to work until her death aged 94.
Although she resisted interpretation of her work, Carrington’s painting and writing both contain a powerful personal symbolism, often employing the horse as an alter-ego. Her childhood and the folk tales told to her by her Irish mother influenced her work; along with her experiences with Ernst and the Surrealists and her time spent in Mexico. However, the blending of these influences remains uniquely her own, and both her writing and painting continue to inspire artists and writers.