The Great Surrealist Artist Remedios Varo And Her Paintings
Updated: Feb 17
Last night, I dreamt of a few sacred objects surrounding me and somebody behind my back possessing me to write something unusual on my desk. It was so terrifying that I slowly wept while witnessing all those mystic and occult power upon me. The sudden forces acting upon me were violent and terrific, bringing the hell out of me. Amidst them, the constant pinching on my back was the last thing I remember about my dream. When I woke up in the morning, a quick coffee served as a saviour, but the irresistible headache didn't leave me alone. Then, to take my mind off it, I took on to my phone and scrolled a few pictures, a filthy habit of mine, which bychance led me to discover the outstanding surrealistic painter; Remedios Varo. Upon reading about the artist's paintings, my state of mind connected it deeply, which let me decide about my next article. You might be thinking, how dramatic? But trust me, coincidences can be beautiful.
Before moving forward, let us talk about Surrealism. It is common among painters, but do we know about it? When you ask me to define the word, it simply means exploring those unreal things from the unconscious mind, displayed in more than an actual form or rational mind. When an artist is surrealistic, she draws the kind of art that is not definitive or is anti-explanatory. She takes her inspiration from her unconscious mind or dreams and then portrays them in the best form on canvas; this is what I know about them.
Our current artist is a Spanish Born Mexican surrealistic artist, Remedios Varo, whose artworks will definitely blow your mind. To understand the stories behind her artworks, let's journey back into her past and childhood.
Born in Angles, a small town in Spain, in 1908, her father, Rodrigo Varo y Zajalvo (Cejalvo), was a hydraulic engineer and her mother, Ignacia Uranga Bergareche, was a devout Catholic. When she was too young, her father discovered her talents and would have her straight lines, radii and perspectives with his copy of technical work with him. He notably encouraged her to paint through science, adventure and philosophy books. As a result, at 12 years of age, these tales influenced her motifs and impressions. In the start, she went to a convent school run by strict nuns. In 1924, however, she escaped these Catholic nuns by taking admission in Madrid and finally confines her allies of Male Surrealistic. As a young girl, Remedios Varo never doubted herself to be not an artist and continued her lifelong journey toward it.
María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga
Date of birth
16 December 1908
Date of death
8 October 1963
In 1930, she married to Gerardo Lizzaragga, whom she met in the Escuela de Bellas Artes. The marriage was a supporting incident to her independence and her final flee from her hometown. After a year of marriage, Lizzaragga got a job, and the couple moved to Barcelona. She shared a studio with Francés having young grand Avante painters. In 1935, her artwork introduced surrealistic styles when she met French surrealist Marcel Jean. She exhibited this style during this period, but unlike men, who portrayed broken or dismembered female bodies and misogynistic attitudes about women, she rendered women in a more feminine and powerful way.
As soon as Remedios Varo met Esteban Francés in 1937, she left her husband behind and joined the Spanish Civil War. However, she never divorced him and remained friends. At one time in her marriage, she said,
"It is not easy to live on painting in Paris...Sometimes I did not have more food in an entire day than a small cup of coffee with milk. I call this 'the heroic epoch'...That bohemian life that is supposed to be necessary for the artist is very bitter."
She had lovers and multiple affairs, but she always remained friends with them after she moved on. After she met poet Benjamin Peret, her other romantic partner, she moved back to Paris. From her experience of time in Paris, she said,
"Yes, I attended those meetings where they talked a lot and one learned various things; sometimes I participated with works in their exhibitions; I was not old enough nor did I have the aplomb to face up to them, to a Paul Eluard, a Benjamin Peret or an Andre Breton. I was with an open mouth within this group of brilliant and gifted people. I was together with them because I felt a certain affinity. Today I do not belong to any group; I paint what occurs to me, and that is all."
In Marseilles, Varo, Péret, and Rubinstein boarded the Serpa Pinto to flee war-torn Europe on 20 November 1941. A psychological scar remains from the terror she experienced at this time.
It was in 1952 when Remedios Varo married Austrian political refugee Walter Gruen whose financial and emotional stability allowed her to devote more time to her artworks. And in her later years, when she died of a heart attack in 1963, Walter conserved her legacy of artwork.
The time has come for us to unveil Remedios Varo Paintings now that we have some background information about her life. Let us begin!
10 Best Remedios Varo Paintings.
1. The Escape, 1962.
The painting by Remedios Varo displays a man and a woman riding in a small boat towards a mountain cave with the threads attached. The Golden ground has dry leaves as depicted in the painting, and the dark-tense colour of the mountain looks more gothic here. The woman in a blue dress and yellow hair holds the rudder, like a shell, whereas the man holds seven strings that make a vessel-like structure. One hand of the man is on the woman's waist, whereas the other may be behind him. They move towards the mountain with a sense of anticipation, as displayed through the pebbles on the boat. When Remedios married Lizzaraga in 1930, she got freedom and finally moved out from her family. The painting exhibits her liberation and the new difficulties in the marriage through items like stones and a dark mountain. One of the most powerful indications of this painting is that each one of the figures has one hand, which means it brings out the surrealistic elements but with a persistent interest in religion. During her studies in Catholic school, she experienced the obligatory acceptance of faith, which she never admired. And maybe this freed from the strict Catholic nurses is also well displayed in her art.
2. The Useless Science or Alchemist, 1955.
The painting by Remedios Varo present a melancholic-faced solitary figure, with their head down and wrapped up with the black and white chess flooring. I dont know whether this pattern comes from the figure's head or ends at its head. You can see that this figure revolves the crank that connects to a pulley on the edge of the floor. And then, this pulley connects to a series of other pulleys and later at the horn and wheels. To the left, you can see an alembic vessel that sits over a fire in an inverted cone. All the elements of the painting are connected. It tells the story of her exile with the poet Benjamin Peret during the war situation. The trauma she felt throughout her living in the jail with the aftermath when they left like refugees, separated her from numerous things and socially departed her, brought psychological scar in her head and so this canvas speaks of. The profound experience of solitude and loneliness looks on the figure's face.
3. The Creation Of The Birds, 1958.
One of the most famous Remedios Varo Paintings represents various mythologies and surrealistic elements. The artwork displays various connectedness from various symbols used in it. It demonstrates an owl-like heart-shaped face with a kind gesture that has fine brush strokes to set forth even the single hair of the owl. It sits on a small table where it paints flying birds. According to the ancient Greek mythologies and Pythagoras, the lyre represents the minute constitution of the human body, the body of the instrument represents the human body, and the strings or nerves and musicians are spirits. The figure with the elements connected displays a strenuous relationship between the human body, nerves and the soul. The checkerboard flooring of green and brown has the figure's leg aligned. The artwork represents the principles of Alchemy. It is a kind of art which is a philosophy having principles of renaissance and transmutation.
The composition has three birds, three rays, and three strings on the instrument, displaying the completeness of the universe by the power of three, according to medieval numerologists.
Remedios Varo believed in mysticism and occultism with alchemy and other spiritual and emotional consequences. She maybe wanted to portray her fleeing from Europe during the harsh circumstances of World War 2.
4. The Flautist, 1955.
The composition by Remedios Varo has a deep relationship of music, sound and form that comes from the 20th-century Gothic philosophies. She never disappoints in bridging a human with natural cosmological processes, and that's what she portrayed here in this artwork. We see a mystical mountain from where the flautist emerges with a white face. There is grass covered on the ground and plants even on the top of the ridge. The three-storey building with stairs with stones and a few symbols is noteworthy, in terms of architecture. The three-dimensional painting has musical symbols laid on the stones, which say about the flow of music, connected with the form of figure and architecture. Colour tones vary from greens, golden browns and earth tones. It tells us the power of music infused with solid architecture.
5. Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst, 1960.
The composition was painted during the end of Remedios Varo's life. In this piece of artwork, the subject is a woman who is wearing a green cloak. Through the impression of the face part that is now uncovered, it appears she recently removed the cloak from her face. There is a dark atmosphere of clouds above the courtyard. She holds a basket full of items, such as a small clock, glasses, a key, and thread. The woman carries in her other hand a small white ghostly head that she took from her basket in the shape of a man. Over the well, she carelessly clasps the head by the tip of his beard, ready to discard it. She tosses the head away without looking back at it, and her facial expression is blank. Clearly defiant, she stands cross-legged and extends her wrist.
In the background of the composition, there are words written- FJA that stands for Freud, Jung, and Adler, three well-known psychotherapists of the time. The artwork contributes to psychoanalysis and the movement from the unconscious to the conscious mind.
Over time when she painted, the Spanish family was a male-dominated society or a patriarchial society. In her life, she was earlier controlled by her father and then her husband after marriage. She reveals her self-identity through this composition. Through the man's head, she displays the psychological restraint in her life due to men. She metamorphically breaks all the prudences to get the freedom of her life. The other head in the dress showcases a woman's thoughts that affect the conscious mind. To find the root of a problem, which could be a relationship or experience, is a way to explore the mind. Kaplan suggests the basket is filled with "psychological waste," and as the woman lightens the burden, her veil falls away.
6. Remedios Varo, Star Catcher, 1956.
The composition painted by Remedios Varo showcases a fanatical and cosmological art that Varo might inspire by the childhood books that her father gave her. Her subject is the Roman goddess Diana, who was a hunter, protector of wild animals, and also worshipped for fertility. She carries a shiny crescent-shaped moon in a cage in one hand and a net with stars on her back. In her background, she lies on a chessboard floor. Wearing an exquisite costume, her cloud-like dress with melancholic eyes, she looks fantastic.
Like the patriarchial society always dominated women in that time, the moon represents the inner feelings of the woman that she hides for her good. To protect her from all those patriarchal norms and suffrage, she showed stars in a butterfly cage as her strengths. Her purpose may be unclear, but she has caught a symbol that represents feminine consciousness. The caged moon is disturbing as it portrays the feelings of constraint. The composition is a relation between dominant and hidden feelings of a woman.
7. Caravan, 1955.
The autobiographical painting of Remedios Varo builds a fanatical enviornment with a night background. The composition consists of a house on wheels with a mysterious cloaked man steering it through the lushly dark forest landscape. A woman sits on the piano with the house depicting pulleys and wheels. Varo maybe describes the elements of the perfect home where the woman is responsible for the warmth and tranquillity of the home, whereas the man is responsible for handling the outside forces. She metamorphically connects the woman as a form and music in the form of architecture that is the moving home. The use of night background depicts her social isolation, as she previously mentioned in her many art forms. Maybe she describes her marriage metamorphically, seeking self-identity amid all the circumstances.
One notable thing in the composition is the face-off or showing back toward the figures, representing the disharmony between herself and her partner.
8. Hairy Locomotion, 1959.
The artwork by Remedios Varo realizes a tense aroma within the cave-like walls that are closed, having three-dimensional effects. The first man, whose long bear is wrapping up the girl on either side, shows a tense and anxious surrounding. He kidnapped him and the other three men, who are detectives searching for her ineffectively. Their fur hats look like clouds, and the long beards and their clothes represent the appearance of Hasidic Jews. For moving their bodies to places, they use their moustaches for riding purposes. The kidnapped girl has an anxious face and sets inventive humour that mitigates her pain. Maybe this painting descends from her Catholic school experience, where she was forced for many things that she never wanted. The way she creates the anxious subject in her composition is somewhat similar to her life experience.
9. Portrait of Dr Ignacio Chavez, 1956.
Remedios Varo painted a famous Mexican cardiologist, Dr Ignacio Chavez, in this artwork. She showed him in the attire of a priest, just like his profession works as a saviour. He holds a key in his hand that directs towards the heart of a lady, suggesting his profession. She also reflected that the patients sometimes act as puppets to them and give them authoritative control. She responded fanatically to her previous visit to a hospital through this composition. The orangish-red sky and the birds depict her symbolic style. The girls with their long fur hair cover half the lower part of their body with an orange essence of the dress. Do not neglect the triangular patterned flooring in the artwork.
10. Harmony, 1956.
Throughout her life, Remedios Varo has turned to music as a symbol of wholeness. Using surrealist self-portraits, Harmony, she created a world of careful study that is quiet, dark, and fertile. There is an androgynous figure whose features mirror Varo herself, sitting in a medieval-looking study filled with alchemical tools. As objects from a treasure chest placed as notes onto a three-dimensional musical staff, a composer creates order from chaos from geometric solids, jewels, plants, crystals, and handwritten formulas. Having skewered everything on a staff of metal threads, Varo can be said to be seeking the invisible thread that connects everything. The composer seeks to unite the abstract and the concrete with the intangibility of sound, just as Pythagoras sought harmony between music, nature, and mathematics. A harmonious piece of music should emerge when he has put each of the diverse objects in its proper place, and he blows through the staff's clef. Vibrations of musical harmony are created by the breath of the musician, through the magical process of 'inspiration.'
Surrealistic art often disappoints the feminists and women like me because of its misogynist attitudes toward the woman's body, but Remedios Varo's art never disappoints as it gives a new life to it, showing the best of the feminine world. She broke the standards of the standard surrealistic woman and sought more self-identity. She used psychoanalysis, cosmology and occult principles in her compositions which have a different meanings. Her use of symbolism is very intimate to the woman's world feelings.
Which of Remedios Varo Paintings inspired you or took you to remember some incident of your past or present? Let me know in the comments below, and I will come up with another artist profile to fascinate you!
Frequently Asked Questions.
Who is Remedios Varo?
Remedios Varo, full name María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga was a Spanish Mexican surrealist painter who commissioned 384 artworks based on the influences throughout her life.
When did Remedios Varo die?
Remedios Varo passed away on 8 October 1963 from a heart attack at a relatively early age of 54. After her death, her then-husband Walter took on the responsibility to conserve her artworks and legacy.
Who was Remedios Varo's husband?
The surrealist artist married Gerardo Lizzaragga in 1930 as a supporting incident to flee from her hometown and gain independence. In 1952, she married an Austrian political refugee Walter Gruen, and at that time, she found stability to devote most of her time to painting.
What type of art Remedios Varo painted?
Remedios Varo painted surrealistic art that, unlike men, didn't carry a misogynist attitude toward women and portrayed them in a feminine and powerful way. Further, her beliefs in mysticism and occultism with alchemy and other spiritual and emotional consequences shaped her paintings.
Who was Remedios Varo inspired by?
Remedios' father Rodrigo Varo y Zajalvo discovered her talents at a very young age and encouraged her to draw using science, adventure and philosophy books. Later, she became interested in surrealism by getting inspired by her male surrealistic friends.
Where can I find Remedios Varo paintings?
Varo's works have been distributed to and acquired by several museums, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain.