New Leonora Carrington Record Set at Sotheby’s

Carrington’s “defining masterpiece” fetched $28.5 million at auction on May 15, smashing the artist’s previous record.

May 16, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies



After a ten-minute bidding war, Les Distractions de Dagobert by Leonora Carrington (1945) sold for $28.5 million at Sotheby’s New York. The May 15th sale makes Carrington the fourth highest selling Surrealist artist—as well as the fifth highest selling woman artist of all time. The British-Mexican Surrealist’s previous auction record of $3.3 million was set at Sotheby’s in 2022.


A Staggering New High for Leonora Carrington

Les Distractions de Dagobert by Leonora Carrington, 1945. Source: Sotheby’s.


Painted two years after Leonora Carrington moved to Mexico, Les Distractions de Dagobert is a fantastical amalgam of references, from Hieronymus Bosch to Mexican Indigenous cosmology. It last appeared at auction in 1995, when it sold for $475,000 at Sotheby’s New York. Market demand for women Surrealist artists has since grown exponentially. Before the Modern Evening Auction began on May 15, the painting was already poised to set a new record with an estimate of $12–18 million. Its final sale price of $28.5 million far surpassed the estimate and multiplied the artist’s previous auction record by nine.


“At public auction for the first time in three decades, the work reveals a realm of infinite possibility,” Sotheby’s wrote on Instagram. “The divine and the terrestrial, flora and fauna entangle with one another in a captivating dance.” The auction house also noted that the record-breaking sale of Carrington’s “defining masterpiece” surpassed auction highs for male Surrealist superstars Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí.


The Winning Bid Was 30 Years in the Making

Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale in New York on May 15, 2024. Source: Julian Cassady Photography and Sotheby’s.


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The Leonora Carrington painting was purchased by Eduardo F. Costantini, an Argentine businessman and founder of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires. Sitting near the front of the salesroom, Constantini outbid several telephone underbidders, after which the room burst into applause. The acquisition, it turned out, was decades in the making. Constantini said, “An iconic painting, The Distractions of Dagobert is one the most admired works in the history of Surrealism and an unparalleled masterpiece of Latin American art. I was the underbidder when she reached the artist’s record thirty years ago and tonight, once again, we made a new auction record.”


Constantini is a familiar face in the auction world, known especially for bidding on Latin American artworks at record-breaking prices. He has donated hundreds of pieces to the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires since founding the institution. Regarding his latest Carrington acquisition, Constantini said, “This masterpiece will be part of a collection where, amongst others, two important works by Remedios Varo and another record-breaking Frida Kahlo are also found.”


Women Surrealists Shone at the Auction

Sotheby’s headquarters in New York City. Source: Wikipedia Commons.


After the Leonora Carrington record was set, Surrealism continued to steal the show at the Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction. Works by women artists were especially popular on the auction block. A second Carrington painting, Who art thou, White Face? (1959), fetched $2 million. Additionally, Esquiador (Viajero) by Remedios Varo (1960) sold for $4.2 million, doubling its high estimate, and Leonor Fini’s Le Train (1975) sold for $444,500, also surpassing its high estimate. Three works by René Magritte also performed well. By the end of the night, Sotheby’s had brought in a total of $235.1 million with fees.

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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.