Carrington was born into an upper-class, Irish-Catholic family in England, but struggled to conform to societal standards (her father wanted her to be a debutante, for example). She found refuge in art, and in 1936 she enrolled in new art academy founded by painter Amédée Ozenfant in London.
Carrington met Surrealist Max Ernst in London in 1937, and lived with him in southern France after he divorced his wife. Most critics dismissed women Surrealists, but Ernst encouraged Carrington, and she exhibited with the Surrealists internationally.
World War II put an end to Surrealism in Europe. Ernst was temporarily imprisoned at an internment camp, and Carrington fled to Spain. There, she was institutionalized at a psychiatric hospital, suffering from extreme emotional distress. She and Ernst never resumed their relationship. Carrington eventually married Mexican diplomat Renato Leduc to facilitate her flight from Europe.
Following a period in New York, where she was reunited with many expatriate Surrealists, Carrington traveled to Mexico with Leduc. In Mexico, Carrington found a vibrant artistic community, including fellow Surrealist Remedios Varo. She remained in Mexico City for the rest of her life.
Eventually she divorced Leduc and married Hungarian photographer Emeric Weisz, with whom she had two sons. She was honored with her first one-woman exhibition at New York’s Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1948, followed by solo and group shows around the world. Carrington died in 2011, one of the last living links to the Surrealist movement.