The Great Surrealist Artist Remedios Varo and Her Paintings

Remedios Varo was a 20th-century surrealist painter who used cosmology and psycho-analogy in her paintings. Learn about her life & paintings.

Remedios Varo

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 by chance 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.

Surrealism Art The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali painted in 1931
The Persistence of Memory, 1931, Salvador Dali | Source: MoMA

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.

Artist Abstract: Remedios Varo.

Kati Horna, Untitled (Remedios Varo wearing a mask by Leonora Carrington), 1962, Photograph | Source: Carol and David Appel Family Fund / MoMA

Remedios Varo was an artist who was a part of many different worlds, from living an old-fashioned life at the Catholic convent school and the art academy to staying in the vanguard worlds of Republic Barcelona and Surrealist Paris, witnessing the terrifying worlds of the civil war in Spain and Nazi occupation and experiencing the meticulous welcoming world of Mexico. The art style of Remedios revolved around obeying the laws and patterns which were far from reality but had properties of the organic and inorganic, natural and technological overlap and merge. Her artwork shows her belief in magic. Deeply superstitious and strongly attracted towards nature, Remedios believed that there are forces beyond self which influence and direct events. A sensitive, humorous and intelligent woman, Remedios’s friend describes her as,

“Like a vibratile insect, always alert, she lived in a perpetual exploration of clues, of revelations, expanding her intelligence and her intuition to understand the hidden meaning of being and life… She had an exceptional love for all that could be experienced through the senses: her touch passed and repassed over the warm surface of wood or the coolness and solidity of rock. She could be absorbed for hours in the weave of a cloth or the play of light on a window pane. She saw in everything the life latent within; she observed the most diverse objects, delighting in all their details, the infinite hues, the textures, colours and forms. And her greatest reverence was shown before plants, flowers, trees, animals: in the most unexpected corners of her house an ivy flourished or a vegetable was germinating.”

Remedios once said,

“I do not wish to talk about myself because I hold very deeply the belief that what is important is the work, not the person.”

Despite her simple words, we are here to study her life as it forms the basis of her art and its significance. So, let us reflect on her life through her works.

ArtistMaría de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga
Birth16 December, 1908
Died8 October, 1963
MediumOil painting
Famous PaintingSolar Music

Looking Through the Life of the Artist.

The Early Years.

Born in Angles, a small town in Spain, in 1908, her father, Don Rodrigo Varo y Zajalvo (Cejalvo), was a hydraulic engineer and her mother, Dona Ignacia Uranga y Bergareche, was a devout Catholic. A family photograph of the Remedios with her family shows that as a girl, perhaps four, with her father and older brother, taken before her younger brother, Luis, their family had features of dark skin and eyes with strong-aquiline noses. With her older brother, Remedios was not close but cordial, however in her later life, he questioned her bohemian life and the seriousness of her artistic pursuits. Remedios described her father as overpowering and demanding, but the tales she told about him, suggest that he was a practical joker. One of the tales is from the family lore. So what happened was that Don Rodrigo was riding in a carriage when he noticed that there was a crowd gathered alongside the road. Upon asking, he came to know that they all were waiting for the arrival of a bishop. So, in response, he promptly stopped the carriage, impersonating the prelate and solemnly blessed the crowd himself.

Remedios Varo and Her Family in 1916 [Doña María Josepha Zejalvo (grandmother), Rodrigo Varo, Jr., Remedios Varo, Luis Varo, and Ignacia Uranga Varo], Photograph | Source: Regenbogen – Art & Books / Via Pinterest
A photograph of Remedios Varo childhood with her older brother Rodrigo Varo Jr. and her father Rodrigo Varo y Zajalvo
A photograph of Remedios Varo childhood with her older brother Rodrigo Varo Jr. and her father Rodrigo Varo y Zajalvo, Photograph | Source: Unknown Author

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. He encouraged her artistic development by taking her to museums, training her in mechanical drawing, and demonstrating the correct use of the ruler, carpenter’s square, and triangle. Hence, Varo continued the historical tradition of learning from their father, uncles or men in the family, who offered early access to training. Though Varo was very much similar to her father in temperament, humour and excellence, due to their shared interest in art and mutual tendency towards fantasy, she always felt cowed by him and was much closer to her mother. After the first few years of excitement due to travelling to foreign cities such as Casablanca and Tangier, the Remedios family settled in Madrid in an apartment on Calle Segovia, a major street in the centre of old Madrid. When she was eight, Remedios went to a catholic school, as per her mom’s wish. Her father wanted his children to study in liberal education schools, but her mother chose Catholic schools as she was greatly devout. The Spanish poet Rafael Alberti describes the Catholic school as,

“reactionary and savage Catholicism that darkened the blueness of the sky from the days of our childhood, covering us with layers and layers of grey ashes.”

Remedios Varo and Her Friend, 1924, Photograph | Source: Unknown Author, Via Pinterest

When Remedios joined the catholic school, her spirit was hindered by the world of routines like meals, classes, prayers and a group of sewing and confessions. She used to sprinkle sugar on the floor in front of her bedroom to help detect the footsteps of potential eavesdroppers and spies. Reading Alexandre Dumas, Jules Vernes and Edgar Allan Poe with the literature of mysticism fascinated her. 

She believed she had felt some of the strong occult incidences in her life. Remedios writes,

“One night, a strange being entered through the window and there itself on the top of me; it was like the devil. I resisted, but his heat was immense. The following day and without my having said anything, at the table, my grandmother said to me, ‘Remedios, what happened to you? Your hair is burned.’ “

And these incidences and dreams in her life were first represented in her autobiographical work, where she mocked the constraints of convent education in a revealing series of three paintings. In the first series, Toward the Tower of 1961, Remedios showed her self-portrait through a group of uniformed girls and bicycling away from a beehive tower where they were held captive, led by a Mother Superior figure and an ominous man. The central panel, Embroidering Earth’s Mantle, showcases these similar young girls captive in a tower, working in a medieval scriptorium and embroidering the mantle of the world according to the dictates of a Great Master. Here, she showed a closer look at her life at the convent school. Finally, the third panel, The Escape, shows her attesting success. Remedios shows herself with her lover fleeing in the mountains. What is behind the painting? I will let you know in the later sections.

Toward the Tower Remedios Varo painting
Toward the Tower by Remedios Varo | Source: Arthive
Embroidering the Earth's Mantle painting by Remedios Varo
Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle by Remedios Varo | Source: Reed Enger, “Educational Fair Use,” in Obelisk Art History

Similarly, Remedios painted, Rupture, where she places her protagonist in a situation with a remembrance of her own experiences as a young woman. As she reflected on the break she found in the tradition of her past, Remedios depicted herself as a cloaked and hooded figure descending a long flight of stairs from a Spanish building with eyes over the windows.

Rupture Remedios Varo
Rupture by Remedios Varo | Source: 600dpi

She continued to express her feelings about being scrutinized and wanting to escape confinement in her later works. Her widower, Walter Gruen, says that no matter how much freedom Varo needed to have as a girl, she would never have felt it enough.

Moving back to her life, from May to September 1923, Remedios showcased a remarkable sensitivity to line, the accuracy of modelling and tenderness of sensibility. There are many portrait sketches from this time, which indicates her excellence with portraits. (Include- I– only sketches.)

 In 1924, when she was fifteen, Remedios enrolled herself as a full-time student at the Academia. She learnt anatomy, composition, perspective, colour theory, a study of architectural forms and drawing figures, clothing, still life, ornamentation, still-life and landscape painting there. On top of all these, she had a course in scientific drawing, for which she got an advantage. Remedios would earn a living by drawing insects in a scientific laboratory. 

As a young girl, Remedios Varo never doubted herself being an artist and continued her lifelong journey toward it.

Journey to Surrealism.

As Remedios joined the Academia, there was an increase in poetry and lectures on Surrealism in Madrid. In 1928, Remedios saw the first screening of An Andalusian Dog, a collaborated short film of Bunuel and Dali, the publication of Concerning the Angels and one of Lorca’s many public lectures, ‘Sketch of the New Painter’. And it was within this atmosphere that Remedios secretly ran the surreal tendencies of her childhood on the canvas.

In 1930, she married Gerardo Lizarraga, 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. Now, in Spain in the late 1920s, there were tight social codes restricting women’s lives. Even though she studied in Academia, Remedios was expected to live with her parents as an unmarried young woman of twenty-one. And so, Varo, who resented the strictures of authority, marriage offered appealing freedom of living away from home, out from any judging eyes.

Remedios Varo and Gerardo Lizarraga 1927
Remedios Varo and Gerardo Lizarraga, 1927, Photograph | Source: Universidac de Navarra

With the hunger for innovation and in search of artistic energy, Remedios and her husband went to Paris. Working at odd jobs, Lizarraga

“led the life of poor bohemians, confident and carefree.”

Later, Remedios admitted that they even threw their dirty dishes into a corner, letting them form a mountainous pile until her mother visited her and washed them. Remedios was clear that she hadn’t come to Paris to become a housewife as she wanted to include herself in the city’s artistic atmosphere.

In 1932, the couple returned to Spain but lived in Barcelona instead of Madrid, craving their taste of Parisian life. 

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. 

Remedios Varo with Esteban Francés (Left) and Gerardo Lizarraga (Right)
Remedios Varo with Esteban Francés (Left) and Gerardo Lizarraga (Right), Photograph | Source:

When she moved to Barcelona, Remedios took a step towards French things. As the city offered geographical and psychological distance from the watchful eyes of her family, she embarked on a liaison with Esteban Frances, a Catalan artist. They became lovers, and Remedios made her first move to break the strict moral code under which she was raised. With multiple affairs and open relationships, which developed into friendships lasting longer than any relationship, she had open sexuality with flouting of unconventional morals. Once she was into an affair with someone, she established friendships, enduring across greater spans of distance and time, remaining intact despite any wrenching upheaval of the chaotic period of history. Sharing a studio in the Plaza de Lesseps with Frances, Remedios thrived in a highly charged atmosphere- buoyed by the early Repulblic’s extraordinary effusion of hope. To document how the couple and their friends devoted themselves to the game of surrealism; a unique series of works were painted in July 1935. Barcelona’s summer became a part of Surrealist lore as the French artist and writer Marcel Jean describes,

“I met Remedios and Esteban Frances when I visited Oscar Dominguez, their friend and mine, while he was in Barcelona in July 1935. Remedios’ husband, Gerardo Lizarrago, and herself were commercial artists; she hardly painted then, drew a little, and we spent some time making together ‘cadavres-exquis.’ ” 

To serve as an attachment to the French Surrealist movement, Remedios and Frances began to send the works they wished to circulate other in Paris to Marcel Jean. The only known work from this period of Remedios is The Anatomy Lesson. It showcases the heads of a bearded and moustachioed man placed atop a torso marked by anatomical diagrams, juxtaposed with X-rays and multiple eyes. Other paintings from this series include The Crossing, Catalog of Shadow, and The Masked Pianist, out of which the Masked Pianist belonged to Remedios.

The Anatomy Lesson Remedios Varo
The Anatomy Lesson by Remedios Varo | Source: SKETCHLINE

This exhibition sponsored by ADLAN (founded in Barcelona) was held in May 1936 at the Glorieta Catalonia, a small avante garde bookstore-gallery in Barcelona. And it majorly showcased three works by Varo: Sewing Lessons, Accident of the Woman- Violence, and The Liberated Leg of the Giant Amoebas (all lost). 

Peret, Marriage and Varo.

The political tension was built in Madrid, following which Lizarraga and Varo left for Paris. Barcelona, which was a city of dancers and late-night cafes, became the city of sporadic street fighting and political murders in 1935. It was the most terrible war in Spain’s history, with blood running in gutters. In this civil war, Luis, the younger brother of Varo, was killed by Franco’s army in extreme conditions. Remedios referred to him as the Francoist hero and talked of her shock that her beloved playmate should side with the enemy and die while still so young. During this hostile atmosphere, nevertheless, Remedios painted a few artworks. Amid this turmoil, she met the French Surrealist poet, Benjamin Peret, who would later become her husband. Remedios was now in love not with a friend of school or fellow artist but to an older man, a published poet, who would defend her country and a romantic who dedicated his love poems to her. In 1937, after Peret reached Paris again after a trip to Spain, Remedios, who was married to Lizarraga and involved with Frances, decided to move with him.

Remedios Varo and Benjamin Peret, 1935, Photograph | Source: Unknown Author, My Daily Art Display

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.”

Several months after his military recall in February 1940, Péret was arrested for political activity and imprisoned. In the winter of 1940, Varo was also imprisoned under suspicion of being his partner. While little is known about Varo’s experiences during this time, one friend described her as extremely distraught after she was released. While living in hiding, she joined the flight of refugees when the Germans invaded Paris. In Marseille, she was joined by Péret, who had also been released. After spending anxious months in familiar company, Varo, Francés, and Péret, dressed up as matadors for a photo session, and they found themselves among other Surrealist artists. It wasn’t until 1941 that Varo and Péret received the documents that enabled them to flee to Mexico.

Benjamin Peret and Remedios Varo in 1941
Remedios and Benjamin Peret, 1941, Photograph | Source: Regenbogen – Art & Books / via Pinterest
Remedios Varo Immigration Papers | Source: Unknown Author, via My Daily Art Display

The Mexico Retreat of the Artist.

As Remedios arrived in Mexico in 1941, she said,

“I came to Mexico searching for the peace that I had not found, neither in Spain- that of revolution- nor in Europe- that of the terrible war for me it was impossible to paint amidst such anguish.”

For a few months, she got stability as Peret and Remedios created a small community of themselves in Mexico. However, the Mexican art community, including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, kept them at some distance as they did not want to welcome this influx of Europeans.

So, Varo and her friends created a community of their own. “Full of beans about their life in Paris,” they gathered regularly on Saturday evenings and exchanged ideas and energy to keep the artistry alive. Varo worked in commercial design, painted furniture, and restored pre-Columbian artefacts, while in Mexico. Working with Marc Chagall in 1942, she designed costumes for Aleko, and in 1947, she worked for Bayer on an advertising campaign in Venezuela. As well as meeting European artists and expatriates, she became friends with Leonora Carrington, Kati Horna, and Gunther Gerzso. Her friendship with Leonora Carrington was especially valuable, since the two co-wrote fairy tales, collaborated on a play, created Surrealistic potions, and influenced each other’s work. As “the three witches,” they sometimes participated in elaborate pranks, including inking tapioca pearls and serving them as caviar at parties attended by Octavio Paz and other notable guests. For Varo, who was anxious and superstitious, and smoked heavily, friendship provided security along with the sense of peace she had just found in Mexico. In her house, she surrounded herself with small objects, quartz crystals, and oddly shaped pieces of wood, all of which held great significance and magic to her.

Last Years.

Despite the Surrealist spirits, meetings and games, the early years in Mexico were easy, but Varo and Peret had arrived with no money and no jobs. Peret started giving French lessons in the Mexican Ministry of Public Education’s School of Painting and Sculpture, but it was Remedios’s effort which kept the family alive including making money and keeping her family warm. She worked at every job that she could find. Her most sustained income came from illustrating promotional literature for the pharmaceutical firm Casa Bayer.

Remedios Varo in 1952 Mexico
Remedios Varo, 1952, Photograph | Source: Unknown Author / Via Un Regard Oblique

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. Although she showed only four paintings in her first solo exhibition in Mexico City in 1955, the event met with critical acclaim and financial success. The newspaper Excelsior noted her,

“spiritual and technical courage…so superior to what is ordinarily seen”,

and described her,

“fervent meticulousness, worthy of a Flemish primitive, at the service of a beautiful imagination.”

A photograph of Walter Gruen in 1952
Walter Gruen, 1952, Photograph | Source:

Her work suddenly attracted waiting lists from buyers, and she held a second solo exhibition in 1958 at the Salón de la Arte de Mujer. In 1960, Juan Martin, her representative, opened his own gallery and almost exclusively displayed her work. It was so successful that Martin opened a second gallery a year later. The heart attack that ended Varo’s career in 1963, at the height of her career, was a tragic and unexpected event.

However, her artworks have a legacy which Walter preserved for her.

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 of the Best Remedios Varo Paintings.

Remedios Varo in her studio with her cat Zorrillo and her artworks Disturbing Presence and Unexpected
Remedios Varo in her studio with her cat Zorrillo and her artworks Disturbing Presence and Unexpected, Photograph | Source: Kati Horna, 1959

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, at the age of twenty-one, she got freedom and finally moved out. The man is a fellow artist whom she had met when she attended the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. 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 free from the strict Catholic nurses is also well displayed in her art. As I have already told you earlier, this is the third-panel painting of her autobiographical painting. The most amusing part of the painting is the magical vehicle on which the couple flees, which looks like a flurry inverted umbrella floating on a foggy mist. As they move towards the mountains, their caps billow out behind them, catching the wind and acting as snails.

The Escape 1962 Remedios Varo Art
The Escape, 1962, Remedios Varo | Source: HEN-Magonza / Flickr

2. The Useless Science or Alchemist, 1955.

The painting by Remedios Varo presents 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 around 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 to 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 a psychological scar in her head, and so this canvas speaks of. The profound experience of solitude and loneliness looks on the figure’s face.

Other than that, it showcases a creative process. It addresses issues of creation and transformation with a female protagonist who works seriously and alone. The floor becomes a mantle, which wraps around the artist as if it is a magician’s cloak. There is a resemblance between this painting and Solar Music. It aligns Varo with the power and magic of nature.

The Useless Science or Alchemist Remedios Varo
The Useless Science or Alchemist, 1955, Remedios Varo | Source: Astarmarket, via Wikimedia Commons

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. Using the primary colours distilled from the atmosphere, she draws with a pen connected through a violin to her heart. Here, the Moonlight, which is the domain of both owl and woman, captures and magnifies through a triangular lens, illuminating the drawing and stimulating the drawn birds to come to life and take flight out a window. By creating these birds, flying off the page, the artist depicted herself within the tradition of mythological artists such as Pygmalion, whose creation was said to come to life. Following this, she claimed the artist who shows the actual formation itself. As creativity and harmony are at the centre of this artwork, the painting is a paradigmatic image of the fulfilment of her quest.

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.

The Creation of the Birds Remedios Varo Paintings
The Creation Of The Birds, 1958, Remedios Varo | Source: WikiArt

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.

The Flautist Remedios Varo
The Flautist, 1955, Remedios Varo | Source: ArtsDot

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 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. 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 her 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. Additionally, she shows a North African woman in their traditional Muslim veiled dress which shows only her eyes. Hence, the painting is filled with veiled, masked and hooded costumes, covering their mouth and rendering them mute and half-hidden.

Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst Remedios Varo Art
Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst, 1960, Remedios Varo | Source: HEN-Magonza / Flickr

6. 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 at 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 strength. 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 the dominant and hidden feelings of a woman.

Remedios Varo Painting Star Catcher, 1956
Star Catcher, 1956, Remedios Varo | Source: WikiArt

7. Caravan, 1955.

Originally titled, Interior on the Move or Roulotte, the artist showed a personal vein which began in her work, The Tower, building a fantasy around her biography.

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 a 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. Varo described it,

“This caravan represents a true and harmonious home, inside of which there are all perspectives, and happily it goes from here to there, the man guiding it, the woman tranquilly making music.”

The interiors of the caravan are painted in golden tones that glow from the centre of the canvas. With her technical skills, she precisely rendered all the perspectives so that the hallways and stairways create a maze of spaces changing direction as they recede. The painting represents the warmth and safety which Varo was now enjoying in her life. However, the muffled mouth, a suspicious glance of the driver and the isolation of the house suggests loneliness, which Varo had in her personal life in the past.

One notable thing in the composition is the face-off or showing back toward the figures, representing the disharmony between herself and her partner.

Caravan Remedios Varo Painting
Caravan, 1955, Remedios Varo | Source: WikiArt

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 their 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.

Remedios Varo Hairy Locomotion Painting
Hairy Locomotion, 1959, Remedios Varo | Source: HEN-Magonza / Flickr

9. Portrait of Dr. Ignacio Chávez, 1956.

Remedios Varo painted a famous Mexican cardiologist, Dr Ignacio Chavez, in this artwork. Remedios dressed him,

“in somewhat priestly clothing to suggest that this profession is perhaps a kind of priesthood. In this hand, he holds a key. the persons coming from the gorge have a little door in place of a heart and he winds them up as they pass by.”

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 bodies with an orange essence of the dress. Do not neglect the triangular patterned flooring in the artwork.

Portrait of Dr Ignacio Chávez Remedios Varo
Portrait of Dr Ignacio Chávez, 1956, Remedios Varo | Source: Obelisk Art History / Artsy

10. Harmony, 1956.

Remedios won the 3000 pesos first prize for her paintings, Harmony and Be Brief. Throughout her life, Remedios Varo has turned to music as a symbol of wholeness. Using surrealist self-portraits, Harmony, 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 are 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.’

“The person is trying to find the invisible thread that links everything and, for this reason, is skewering all kinds of things on a staff of metal threads.”

Remedios unites each abstract element in the composition as if Pythagoras searches for secret harmony between music, nature and mathematics.

“When he has succeeded in putting each of the diverse objects in its place, by blowing through the clef that supports the staff, a music should come out that… is harmonious…”

Harmony, 1956, Remedios Varo Surrealist Self Portraits
Harmony, 1956, Remedios Varo | Source: WikiArt

Final Words.

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 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!


1. Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys by Janet Kaplan.

2. Surreal Friends: Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Kati Horna by Mr Stefan Van Raay (Author), Joanna Moorhead (Author), Teresa Arcq (Author), Sharon-Michi Kusunoki (Contributor), Antonio Rodriguez Rivera (Contributor).

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. Between the two time periods, Remedios was married to a poet, Benjamin Peret whom she lived with in Mexico.

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.


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