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Case Study: Self Portrait (The Inn of the Dawn Horse)

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

When recalling the surrealist movement, it seems blasphemous the lack of mention that Leonora Carrington receives. Along with Frida Kahlo, Carrington was one of few female artists of the time exploring surrealism. Contrary to Dali and most of her peers Carrington rejected the theories of Sigmund Freud. Her works focuses on her own subconscious, drawing imagery and symbols from traumatic experiences in her life. Rather than warping object or offering odd perspectives much of the work involves stylized, somewhat wonky, characters barren space. The work is awkward.

The piece above is titled 'Self-Portrait (The Inn of the Dawn Horse)' completed in 1938. It depicts a woman, presumably Leonora herself, a rocking horse mounted on the wall, a disturbing looking beast at the woman's side, and finally a white stallion running free in the distance. At first the whole painting feels awkward, almost comical. None of it makes sense. The bland room's only stand out feature is a terracotta tile floor. Adorned only with a window dressing and a victorian style chair, I'm left wondering what in the absolute fuck is happening here. Little did I know my own ignorance to equestrian lineage was the only thing holding me back from a conceptual awakening.

Now this is just me spitballing again, but here's where I'm at. The beast I said looked disturbing is actually a dawn horse. Most of you probably knew that from the title, however I am an idiot. Anyways my fellow equestrian novices, a dawn horse is an extinct breed of horse and yep that is relatively close what they look like. Mind blown. She is literally surrounded three potential realities. Being extinct, being contained, and being free. Running wild is both isolating and freeing. The rocking horse is safe. Contained, it is what we want a horse to be. Carrington takes it a step further and places it unnaturally suspended on the room wall. Not even allowing it to rock back and forth. Maybe extinct is the best possible outcome. Cemented in history. But shocking to everyone who witnesses it.

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