Varo, Remedios (1906–1963)

views updated

Varo, Remedios (1906–1963)

Twentieth-century Surrealist painter in Spain and Mexico. Name variations: Maria de los Remedios Varo y Uranga. Born Maria de los Remedios Varo y Uranga on December 16, 1906, in Anglés, Spain; died on October 8, 1963; daughter of Rodrigo Varo y Zejalbo and Ignacia Uranga y Bergareche; married Gerardo Lizárraga, in 1930; married Benjamin Péret, in 1942; married Walter Gruen, around 1952.

Born in 1906 in Anglés, Spain, Remedios Varo was the daughter of Rodrigo Varo y Zejalbo and Ignacia Uranga y Bergareche . At an early age, she displayed a talent for drawing and painting and a fascination with a magical world that would later infuse her Surrealism. Varo also rebelled against the conservative Catholicism of her mother. Having settled in Madrid, her parents arranged for her to attend art and graphics schools, and by 15 she had gained admittance to the Academy of San Fernando, the most important art school in the Spanish capital. She received a broad and rigorous training in the graphic arts, met fellow student Salvador Dali, and in 1930 married another student, Gerardo Lizárraga.

Influenced by Surrealism, the young couple moved to Paris but returned to Spain in 1932, settling in Barcelona where the cultural and political climate was more liberating than in Madrid. A bohemian nonconformist, Varo began an affair with Esteban Francés while still living with Lizárraga. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, she also began a liaison with the French Surrealist poet Benjamin Péret, who had arrived in Barcelona to join the International Brigades. In 1937, Varo, Péret, and Francés went to Paris, with Lizárraga remaining behind to fight. Varo and Péret, who had no regular income, lived from odd jobs and whatever they could earn from their paintings and poetry. Varo earned some money through imitating Giorgio de Chirico paintings.

The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, but Varo could not return home, because the Franco government had sealed the border to leftist exiles. Then World War II began, and ideological strife tore at France. Early in 1940, the police arrested Varo and held her in prison for several traumatic months. The Germans overran France about the time she was released. Varo and her leftist friends managed to escape France, helped by the Emergency Rescue Committee. From Marseilles, they went to Morocco and then to Mexico.

She and Péret joined a large contingent of other political refugees in Mexico. When he returned to France in 1947, Varo stayed in the Americas, with a new lover, Jean Nicolle. They lived in Venezuela for a couple of years, visiting members of her family who had immigrated there. In 1949, Varo and Nicolle returned to Mexico, and it became her homeland. Leaving Nicolle, she took up with Walter Gruen, whom she eventually married. He provided basic financial security, and Varo dedicated her energies to her art. Over the next decade, she painted prolifically, her works evolving from the Surrealism of the 1930s. Although her paintings were still infused with dream-like images drawn from the magical world of her imagination, Varo planned her canvases and techniques rather than allowing her subconscious to control the process. The influence of Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, and Goya appears in some of her paintings. In 1958, she met her mother in France but could not enter Spain on her old Spanish Republic passport.

Remedios Varos was still productive and her fame increasing when she died of a heart attack on October 8, 1963. In Mexico City, the Palace of Fine Arts and the Museum of Modern Art held major retrospective exhibitions of her paintings, to great popular acclaim, in 1964, 1971, and 1983.


Chadwick, Whitney. Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement. Boston, MA: New York Graphic Society, 1985.

Kaplan, Janet A. Unexpected Journeys: The Art and Life of Remedios Varo. NY: Abbeville Press, 1988.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah