National Museum of Women in the Arts
Remedios Varo
December 16 1908 - October 08 1963
Photograph of Remedios Varo in her studio painting Farewell, 1958, courtesy of Walter Gruen
Place of Birth:
Mexican, Spanish
Phonetic Spelling:
ray-MAY-dee-yohs VAH-roh
Work Type/Media:
Books and manuscripts, Decorative and utilitarian works, Drawings and prints, Painting, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Book Artist, Commercial Artist, Draftsperson, Illustrator, Muralist, Painter, Sculptor, Furniture Painter
Artist's Biography:
The Surrealist artist Remedios Varo painted mysterious lives of solitary women and unearthly beings in eerie settings—torn rooms, medieval towers and strange landscapes.

Varo was born in Anglés, near Girona, Spain. As a child she was sensitive to the frequent uprooting of her family to follow her engineer father. She studied art in Madrid and moved several times between Paris and Spain, where she met the leading Surrealist artists and participated in avant-garde exhibitions. Escaping Nazi occupation, Varo and her husband French Surrealist poet Benjamin Péret made their permanent home in Mexico City in 1941, where many exiled Surrealists had already fled. Varo separated from Péret and initially made a meager living as a commercial artist and illustrator in Mexico City. At the encouragement of Walter Gruen, Austrian exile and successful businessman, she was able to completely devote herself to painting during the last eleven years of her life. Her first solo exhibition in Mexico at the Galería Diana in 1955 was a huge success and earned her international recognition.

Varo became skilled in Surrealist automatism, a practice where several artists work together to devise unforeseen subjects with smoke or wax on paper or canvas. Varo limited her own palette to somber oranges, light browns, shadowy grays and greens. Her paintings are carefully drawn, making the astonishing stories or mystic legends especially convincing. Rejecting the male-dominated language of Surrealist doctrine, Varo often painted magnificent heroines busy with alchemical activities. A delicate figure may spin and weave tiny threads transforming them into musical instruments or fashion them into paintings of small birds. The settings are often medieval tower rooms equipped with occult laboratory devices. Figures wearing tattered garments may emerge from a forest of withered trees. Exploration of the Sources of the Orinoco, 1959, depicts a woman in a derby hat and stylish coat confidently sailing an orange egg-shaped boat, powered by miniature angel wings and a fish’s tail, with a compass securing her passage through columns of submerged trees. Varo borrowed from Romanesque Catalan frescoes and medieval architecture, mixed nature and technology, and combined reality and fantasy to create worlds that elude time and space.

Varo died of a heart attack at the height of her fame in her home in Mexico City in 1963. Since that time, her works have been seen in over a dozen solo exhibitions and nearly one hundred group shows worldwide.

Other Occupation(s):
Art Forger
Place(s) of Residence:
Mexico City
Where Trained/Schools:
Academia de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain (1924-1930)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of Gerardo Lizarraga friend of Leonora Carrington friend of Octavio Paz friend of Esteban Francés friend of André Breton
Fellowships, grants and awards:
First Prize, Salon of Women's Fine Arts, Gallerías Excelsior, Mexico City, Mexico (1958)
Earliest exhibition:
Draftmen's Union, Madrid, Spain (1930)
NMWA exhibition(s):
The Magic of Remedios Varo
Artists on the Road: Travel as Source of Inspiration
Latin American Women Artists, 1915-1995
Artist retrospective(s):
Remedios Varo, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico (1994) Instituto Nacional de Artes Finos, Mexico City, Mexico (1964)
Related places
Mexico City (died at)