Leonora Carrington Painting Set to Quadruple Auction Record

With a low estimate of $12 million, a masterwork by the British-Mexican Surrealist will be auctioned at Sotheby’s on May 15.

Apr 18, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies


A 1945 Surrealist showstopper by Leonora Carrington is headed to the auction block next month. Hitting the market for the first time in nearly 30 years, Les Distractions de Dagobert will be sold at Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction in New York on May 15. The painting is poised to quadruple the British-Mexican artist’s previous auction record.


Les Distractions de Dagobert: “The Definitive Masterpiece”

Les Distractions de Dagobert by Leonora Carrington, 1945, via Sotheby’s


Leonora Carrington painted Les Distractions de Dagobert in 1945, two years after emigrating from Europe to Mexico City. There, the Surrealist painter joined a progressive enclave of modern artists and kicked off the most productive and imaginative phase of her artistic career.


Les Distractions de Dagobert is considered one of Carrington’s most significant works. A large-scale example of the artist’s detailed Surrealist iconography and mesmerising coloration, the painting recounts scenes inspired by the titular 7th-century king of the Franks, Dagobert, “whose taste of sexual excess was matched by love of luxury,” Sotheby’s explains.


Les Distractions de Dagobert is the definitive masterpiece of Leonora Carrington’s long and storied career, bearing all the hallmarks of the artist at her absolute height,” said Julian Dawes, head of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s in New York. “The painting pioneers the visionary style that we associate with surrealism today while equally evocative of Hieronymus Bosch’s anarchic tableaus, bridging artistic boundaries to achieve an entirely new language. Like Carrington herself, the painting defies easy categorization, existing on an astral plane of its own unique being.”

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Sotheby’s Predicts New Leonora Carrington Auction Record

Sotheby’s headquarters in New York City, via Wikipedia Commons


With an estimate between $12 and $18 million, Les Distractions de Dagobert by Leonora Carrington is guaranteed to sell in May, according to Sotheby’s. Carrington’s previous auction record was set in 2022, when The Garden of Paracelsus (1957) sold for $3.3 million, surpassing its $1.8 million high estimate. Eight of the ten highest auction prices of Carrington’s work have been set in the past four years.


Les Distractions de Dagobert last came to market in 1995, where it was purchased for $475,000 against a $250,000 high estimate at Sotheby’s.


Women Surrealists Finally Get the Spotlight

Photo of Leonora Carrington painting, via Leonora Carrington Foundation


100 years after André Breton published the Surrealist Manifesto, women Surrealist artists are getting the overdue recognition—and the rapidly rising market value—they deserve.


“The recent surge of interest in previously overlooked women artists connected with the Surrealist movement marks a profoundly significant cultural shift,” said Allegra Bettini, head of the Modern Art Evening auction at Sotheby’s in New York. “Leonora Carrington has proved to be a lightning rod of attention, setting the stage for Les Distractions de Dagobert, the apotheosis of Carrington’s oeuvre, to take its place as a masterpiece of 20th century art.”


Les Distractions de Dagobert is on view in Los Angeles until April 19. Then, the painting will move to Sotheby’s in New York ahead of the Modern Evening Auction on May 15.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.