Biography of Remedios Varo Spanish painter famous both in Spain and in Mexico. Remedios Varo’s artistic work shows a world from her imagination.
The painter Remedios Varo was one of the first women to study at the “Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando” in Madrid.
Remedios Varo was a pioneer painter of surrealism. Surrealism was a literary and artistic movement promoted by André Breton in 1924, which sought to transcend the real from the psychic impulse of the imaginary.
Childhood and family of Remedios Varo
Remedios Varo Uranga was born on December 16, 1908, in Anglés, a town located 17 km from Gerona, Spain.
Her father, Rodrigo Varo was an engineer from the Andalusian town of Cabra, near Córdoba.
Her mother, Ignacia Uranga, was of Basque descent. Remedios Varo was the second of three brothers: Rodrigo, Remedios and Luis.
The profession of the engineer Rodrigo Varo forced the family to move their residence from Anglés (Gerona) to Morocco; and then to Madrid in 1917.
When the family arrived in Madrid, Remedios Varo was 9 years old. Her parents enrolled her in Catholic schools, so that she received basic instruction there.
From that early age, Remedios Varo had heart problems, causing a sick life in her childhood and adulthood.
Youth and studies by Remedios Varo
In 1924, at the age of fifteen, Remedios Varo already showed a natural inclination for painting.
Her father encouraged her to enter the “Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando“, located in Calle Alcalá, Madrid.
In this prestigious institution, Remedios Varo received classes from the famous Cordovan painter Julio Romero de Torres.
At the “Student Residence” in Madrid, the very young Remedios Varo shared gatherings and meetings with artists such as García Lorca (1898-1936) and Salvador Dalí (1904-1989).
The “Student Residence” in Madrid had been founded in 1910 as an educational complement to the university, for the training of the children of the ruling classes. From 1910 to 1939 it was one of the main nuclei of scientific and educational modernization in Spain.
The student Remedios Varo, 22 years old, participated in 1930, in a collective exhibition organized by the “Union of Cartoonists of Madrid“.
At the end of her studies, in 1930, Remedios Varo married a colleague from the Academia de San Fernando, Gerardo Lizarraga Ortiz. Both resided in Paris for a year.
Gerardo Lizarraga was a painter, draftsman and poster designer.
Remedios Varo lived in Barcelona from 1932 to 1937
In 1932, Remedios Varo and Gerardo Lizarraga returned to Spain and settled in Plaza de Lesseps in Barcelona, in the Gracia neighborhood.
In Barcelona, Remedios worked as an advertising designer, joining the Catalan surrealist group called “logicofobista” (phobia of what seems logical).
The group’s will was to represent a new generation of surrealists, and to show a social implication of surrealism.
To highlight the rupture identity and the phobia of logic, they adopted the nickname “logicofobista”. In their paintings, they purported to represent the mental states of the soul.
At this time, Remedios Varo painted “L’Agent Double”, a typical work of the logicofobista movement.
The political climate in Barcelona in the early 1930s was very hectic and bellicose. Despite this, the artistic and literary environment was in an intensely creative stage.
In 1935, Remedios Varo shared her studio with the painter Esteban Francés, who introduced her to André Breton’s surrealist circle, which sought to transcend the real, from the imaginary.
Remedios Varo joined the Catalan artistic avant-garde, which pursued the synthesis of spiritualism and surrealism.
In surrealism the scientific, the mystical, the esoteric and the magical were mixed. In painting, surrealism had its most popular representative in Salvador Dalí.
Remedios Varo exhibited her drawings in Madrid together with Josep-Lluís Florit and among her paintings was “Composition”.
In May 1936, she participated in a historical logicofobista exhibition organized by the Librería Catalònia, in Barcelona. The group had the intention of moving it to Madrid and other Spanish cities, but the civil war interrupted the project.
When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, Remedios Varo actively supported the Republicans. In these circumstances she met the French surrealist poet Benjamin Péret, who was “her great love”.
Remedios Varo left Spain in 1937
In 1937, Remedios Varo broke her relationship with Gerardo Lizarraga and went to Paris in the company of Benjamin Péret.
During her stay in the city of lights, Remedios Varo became even more imbued with the surrealist movement.
The artist’s sensitivity and genius absorbed the virtues and skills of the painters she met through André Breton: Max Ernst, Víctor Brauner, Joan Miró, Wolfgang Paalen and Leonora Carrington.
In 1937, Remedios Varo participated in the “International Surrealism Exhibition in Tokyo”; and her work “Le désir” was reproduced in number 10 of the French “Minotaure” magazine.
The writer Isabel Navarro relates that Remedios loved joining the Parisian bohemians and photographing herself dressed as a bullfighter and selling cakes on the street.
In 1941, when the nazis invaded the French capital, Remedios Varo was arrested for being the partner of Benjamin Péret.
After thousands of incidents, she and Péret were finally able to flee to Mexico. Remedios Varo never returned to Spain.
Mexican stage of the painter Remedios Varo
Thanks to the refugee reception policy of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas, Remedios and Benjamin were able to carry out a work activity in Mexico.
Already established in Mexico, Péret and Remedios were integrated into a circle of friends and artists, including César Moro, Esteban Francés, Gerardo Lizarraga, Leonora Carrington, Octavio Paz and Eva Sulzer.
During the 1940s, Remedios Varo made a living by doing crafts, decoration and advertising. She had a collaboration with Marc Chagall in the wardrobe for the ballet Aleko that premiered at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico.
At the “International Surrealism Exhibition” in Mexico (1940) at the Gallery of Mexican Art, a painting by Remedios Varo was exhibited, titled “Memory of the Walkyria“.
In 1947, after World War II, Remedios Varo and Benjamin Péret separated. The latter returned to Paris. They always kept in touch. Remedios financially supported Benjamin and accompanied him on his deathbed in 1959.
Remedios Varo moved to live in Venezuela
Thanks to her already numerous contacts, Remedios Varo was hired in 1947, on a scientific expedition to Venezuela, sponsored by the “French Institute of Latin America“.
Remedios Varo’s job was to carry out microscopic studies of mosquitoes, as part of an anti-malarial health campaign.
In Venezuela, in addition to her work as an entomological illustrator, she was able to continue sending advertising posters for Bayer. She also worked for a short period for the “Venezuelan Malaria Institute“.
Return of Remedios Varo to Mexico in 1949
In 1949, she returned to Mexico, where she continued her work as an advertising illustrator.
In 1952, Remedios Varo married Walter Gruen, an Austrian politician refugee in Mexico and an admirer of her work.
Walter Gruen provided Remedios with emotional and financial stability, and convinced her to dedicate herself exclusively to painting.
They were the best years for the artistic production of Remedios Varo. At that time she met artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
In Mexico, she established stronger bonds of friendship with other intellectuals in exile, in particular with the British surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.
Remedios Varo presented her works to the public in a first collective exhibition, in 1955, in Mexico City. The following year, Remedios offered a solo exhibition.
In 1958 Varo obtained the first place in the First Salon of Feminine Plastic in Excelsior Galleries.
During these years, Remedios exhibited her paintings in various Mexican institutions, including the National Institute of Cardiology. There is the “Portrait of Dr. Chávez“, which she painted in 1957, in tribute to her cardiologist, the Mexican doctor Ignacio Chávez.
Remedios’ life was surrounded by mysticism, her topics of interest ranged from psychoanalytic theory to alchemy, as expressed in multiple paintings by her.
Of her work “Ascensión al monte analogo” from 1960, Remedios Varo commented: “As you can see, that character is going upstream, alone, on a very fragile piece of wood and his own dresses serve as his candle. It is the effort of those who try to rise to another spiritual level”.
The mysticism in her paintings was influenced by the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Alfred Adler.
Until the end of her life she was unable to make a living from painting. She always did artistic survival work, especially as an advertising illustrator.
She also painted musical instruments and furniture, made movie sets, and designed costumes and headdresses for theater and ballet alongside Leonora Carrington and Marc Chagall.
Remedios Varo died on October 8, 1963, in Mexico City, of a myocardial infarction.
Many of Remedios Varo’s paintings are preserved in the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City, and are exhibited on numerous occasions as temporary exhibitions.
Posthumous acknowledgments to Remedios Varo
In 2007 the Cuban writer Zoe Valdés published the novel “La cazadora de astros” in which she recovers the artist’s history.
In 2008 she was recognized by the city of Barcelona with a plaque in some gardens of the Diagonal Mar neighborhood that, since then, bear its name: “Jardines Remedios Varo“.
The University of Barcelona organized international seminars between 2008 and 2009 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Remedios Varo’s exile, to promote the figure of this little-known artist in Cataluña where she was born.
The papers were gathered in the volume “Remedios Varo. Paths of knowledge, creation and exile”(2013).