Artist
Remedios Varo
Spanish artist

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Remedios Varo
Spanish artist
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Birth Date

December 16, 1908

Death Date

October 08, 1963

gstecyk's picture

Contributor

Remedios Varo was born in Spain to a fanatical Catholic mother who named her after the Virgin of Los Remedios, and a bohemian father who encouraged creativity and independent thought.

Suffice it to say, Varo took after her father. Her idea of religious devotion was making regular visits to the Prado to lose herself in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

Varo went to art school with Salvador Dali, and moved in a circle of surrealists who helped invent the artistic parlor game, exquisite corpse. With fascism rising and civil war boiling over in Spain, Varo briefly moved to Paris with her first husband, fellow artist Gerardo Lizarraga, and later returned to Paris long-term with her new lover, poet Benjamin Peret. Varo and Lizarrago never officially divorced (despite her later marrying Peret), and she even arranged for his release from a concentration camp when she recognized him by chance in a newsreel. As World War II erupted across Europe, Peret and Varo likewise found themselves imprisoned, him for refusing to enlist, and her for harboring him from the police. They got out of prison just as the Nazis were marching on Paris, and narrowly escaped to Casablanca.

Casablanca’s refugee society was a world of steamy glamor (famously portrayed in the 1942 Hollywood film), where Europe’s displaced cultural elite languished in colonial North Africa for transit papers to the Americas. Varo and Peret were among the lucky who procured passage across the Atlantic. Peret hoped to settle in the USA, but it turned out the “Land of the Free” was sucky to refugees back then too, so they went to Mexico.

Luckily, it was a good time to be an artist in Mexico. Varo renewed her friendship with Leonora Carrington, another emigre artist she had previously met in Paris. They also rubbed elbows with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, but Frida wasn’t a big fan of the female expatriate painters, calling them, “those European b*tches.” Varo and Carrington, on the other hand, got along famously. They dramatically influenced each other’s work, but also got a kick out of throwing surrealist-inspired dinner parties where they would invite random strangers out of the phone book and serve them experimental cuisine such as human-hair omelettes and “caviar” of tapioca dyed with ink.

While this “homance” for the ages flowered, Varo’s love life was on-again, off-again. Peret, then her bigamous second husband, moved back to Paris following the war. She flitted around with pilot and adventurer Jean Nicolle for a while, joining him on a scientific expedition to Venezuela. She eventually settled down with Walter Gruen, a Buchenwald Holocaust survivor who tirelessly supported her art. She had primarily done commercial work prior to their relationship, and Gruen’s support allowed her to pursue her true calling full time. Just as she was starting to pick up steam in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, she died of a heart attack at age 54.

Varo died without a will, and Gruen bought 39 of her works on the open market and donated them to the Museum of Modern Art Mexico. Enter Varo’s estranged niece, Beatriz. Beatriz barely knew her aunt, and never expressed the slightest interest in the paintings until they started selling for a crapload of money. Nevertheless, she claimed she was the rightful owner as Varo’s closest living relative; so Beatriz, Gruen and the Museum went to court.

Gruen claimed to be Varo’s rightful heir as her common-law husband of 11 years. Since Varo never technically divorced her first husband, her subsequent partners were illegitimate. Despite spotty paperwork on the sales, Gruen produced a credible witness testifying that he had, in fact, bought the paintings legally. However, Beatriz maintained that he had no right to buy them in the first place, since they should have passed directly to her. A judge initially ruled in Beatriz’ favor, sparking universal outrage, but ultimately the paintings went back to the Museum.

Thanks to Gruen’s hard-fought efforts to solidify her legacy, Mexico has since acknowledged Varo’s cultural significance, though native-born artists maligned her as a colonialist outsider during her lifetime. The rest of the Western World is also starting catch on to her genius, due in part to master appropriator Madonna, who referenced Varo and Leonora Carrington in her 1995 music video, Bedtime Story.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Benjamin Peret: Las parole est a Peret, New York 1943. Paris: Les Ameriques et autres lieux, 1992.
  2. Cate-Arries, Francie. Spanish Culture Behind Barbed Wire: Memory and Representation of the French Concentration Camps, 1939-1945. Cranbury, NJ: Lewisburg Bucknell University Press, 2004.
  3. Gallery Wendi Norris. “Remedios Varo.” accessed May 2, 2017. http://www.gallerywendinorris.com/remedios-varo/
  4. “In Court, Life Imitates Surrealist Art.” Banderas News, September 2005. http://www.banderasnews.com/0509/art-varo.htm
  5. Kaplan, Janet A. “Remedios Varo: Voyages and Visions.” Woman’s Art Journal 1.
  6. Kraul, Chris. “A legal battle that is Surreal.” Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2005. http://articles.latimes.com/2005/may/18/entertainment/et-mexart18
lheard's picture

Contributor

Remedios Varo was an expert forger, stunning multitasker, and terrifying host.

Remedios Varo, jack of all trades and badass Spanish Surrealist, had seen conventionality and was not impressed. Daughter of an engineer with a Catholic school education, Varo would grow into a Surrealist powerhouse with an artistic posse even Andy Warhol would envy. Madonna herself wanted in on Varo’s star quality, using imagery from her work in her music video for “Bedtime Story.” Who could blame her?

The Spanish Civil War trapped Varo in Paris as a refugee, and the rise of Nazism finally forced her to flee to Mexico after a brief arrest. There, Varo worked with artists like Leonora Carrington, forming a tightknit group Frida Kahlo so eloquently called “those European b*tches.” Although she was quite introverted, Varo hosted far more sophisticated dinner parties than any of us. The cheeky surrealist took prank calls to new heights and asked arbitrary telephone book contacts to dine. Attendance was not advisable: the meals Varo concocted for her long-suffering friends were more science experiment than sustenance, culminating in a bone-chilling hair omelet. Also notable was Varo’s “caviar” constructed of tapioca, a less offensive but no less befuddling choice of ingredients.

Varo demonstrated her vast array of talents through the odd jobs she took on to make ends meet. Unfortunately, her resume made all other mere mortals seem woefully inadequate. While some of us have trouble tying shoelaces and adequately peeling an orange, Varo casually became a toymaker, medical illustrator, costume designer, and pottery mender. Not one to miss out on a good deal, Varo even forged works by Giorgio de Chirico.

Years after Varo’s death at 54, thirty-nine of her works in the Mexico City Museum of Modern Art became the subjects of a lengthy court battle. Contestants were Walter Gruen, Varo’s partner in life and a fellow refugee, the Mexican government, and Varo’s niece. Gruen had purchased the paintings and gifted them to the museum, unable to claim ownership as Varo never divorced her former husband. However, Varo’s niece claimed them as her right, arguing that Gruen couldn’t prove ownership. The result? A fight over art worth a whopping $15 million. It’s no surprise Varo’s paintings have increased in value-- anyone would want a piece made by Surrealism royalty.

Sources

Sources

  1. Blumberg, Naomi. "Remedios Varo." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 22, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Remedios-Varo.
  2. Fernandes, Andréa. "A Spanish Parisian in Mexico: Remedios Varo." Mental Floss. June 19, 2009. Accessed May 22, 2017. http://mentalfloss.com/article/22027/spanish-parisian-mexico-remedios-varo.
  3. Kraul, Chris. "A Legal Battle that is Surreal." Los Angeles Times. May 18, 2005. Accessed May 22, 2017. http://articles.latimes.com/2005/may/18/entertainment/et-mexart18.
  4. Moorhead, Joanna. “The Surrealist Muses who Roared.” The Guardian. June 18, 2010. Accessed May 23, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jun/18/surrealist-muses-wh....
  5. Otero, Estrella de Diego. "Remedios Varo, la moderna visionaria." El País. January 27, 2016. Accessed May 22, 2017. http://elpais.com/elpais/2016/01/25/eps/1453724279_168385.html.
  6. "Remedios Varo." National Museum of Women in the Arts. Accessed May 22, 2017. https://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/remedios-varo.

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Remedios Varo

Remedios Varo Uranga (16 December 1908 – 8 October 1963) was a Spanish surrealist artist working in Spain, France, and Mexico.

Early life

She was born María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga in Anglès, a small town in the province of Girona (Catalonia), in northeast Spain, in 1908. Her mother named Varo in honor of the Virgen de los Remedios (the "Virgin of Remedies") after a recently deceased older sister.

Varo's father, Rodrigo Varo y Zajalvo (Cejalvo), was a hydraulic engineer. Because of his work, the family moved to diffferent locations across Spain and North Africa. Varo's father recognized her artistic talents early on and would have her copy the technical drawings of his work with their straight lines, radii, and perspectives, which she reproduced faithfully. He encouraged independent thought and supplemented her education with science and adventure books, notably the novels of Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe. As she grew older, he provided her with texts on mysticism and philosophy. Those first few years of her life left an impression on Varo that would later show up in motifs in her work such as machinery, furnishing and artifacts. Romanesque and Gothic architecture unique to Anglès also showed up in her later artistic production. Varo's mother, Ignacia Uranga Bergareche, was born to Basque parents in Argentina. She was a devout Catholic and commended herself to the patron saint of Anglès, the Virgin of Los Remedios, promising to name her first daughter after the saint.

Varo had two surviving siblings: an elder brother Rodrigo and a younger brother Luis.

Varo was given the basic education deemed proper for young ladies of a good upbringing at a convent school - an experience that fostered her rebellious tendencies. Varo took a critical view of religion and rejected the religious ideology of her childhood education and instead clung to the liberal and universalist ideas that her father instilled in her. Varo drew throughout he childhood and painted her first painting at age twelve. The family moved to Madrid in 1924 and Varo entered the prestigious Escuela de Bellas Artes at the age of 15 under the tutelage of Manuel Benedito. Varo met her husband Gerardo Lizárraga at the Escuela de Bellas Artes and married him in San Sebastian in 1930.

The couple left Spain for Paris to be nearer to where much of Europe's art scene was. After a year, Lizarraga got a job in Spain and the couple moved to Barcelona, at the time the European centre of the artistic avant-garde. Both Lizarraga and Varo worked for the Thompson Advertising Firm while in Barcelona In 1935, Varo participated in a drawing exhibition in Madrid which displayed her Composición (Composition). The following year, Varo contributes three works to a show organized by the “Logicophobists.”

In 1937 Varo met political activist and artist Esteban Francés and leaving her husband behind to fight in the Spanish Civil War, moved to France with both Francés and the poet Benjamin Péret to escape from the political unrest. Varo then shared a studio in Paris with Péret and Francés. Varo never divorced Lizarraga and had different partners/lovers throughout her life, but she also remained friends with all of them, in particular with husband Lizarraga and Péret.

In Paris, Varo lived in poverty, working odd jobs and having to copy and even forge paintings in order to get by. At the beginning of World War II, Péret was imprisoned by the French government for his political beliefs; Varo was also imprisoned as his romantic partner. A few days after Varo was freed, the Germans entered Paris, and she was forced to join other refugees leaving France. Péret was freed soon after, and the two managed to obtain documents to allow them to escape the war to Mexico. On 20 November 1941 Varo, along with Péret and Rubinstein, boarded the Serpa Pinto in Marseilles to flee war-torn Europe. As a result of this terror she faced, many stated that as an adult Varo was scarred by these events.

Varo began her interest in esoteric doctrine of G.I. Gurdjieff in 1943 and officially joins the group in 1944.

Varo initially considered her time in Mexico to be temporary, but except for a year spent in Venezuela, she would reside in Mexico for the rest of her life. This trip to Venezuela was part of a French scientist expedition which she joined in Paris during trip there from Mexico. She returns to Mexico after one year abroad in 1949.

In 1952 Varo married the Austrian political refugee Walter Gruen. His financial stability allowed Varo more time to devote to her painting.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Remedios Varo.