Remedios Varo

Remedios Varo – The Pinnacle of Mexican Surrealism

Remedios Varo, a Spanish-Mexican surrealist artist born in 1908, is renowned for her enchanting and enigmatic paintings that blend fantasy, science, and mysticism. Her works often feature intricate dreamscapes, mystical symbols, and imaginative narratives, inviting viewers into a world of magic and mystery. Varo’s unique style and deep exploration of the subconscious have made her a prominent figure in the surrealist movement, leaving a lasting impact on the art world. This article delves into the life, art, and influence of Remedios Varo, showcasing her remarkable contributions to surrealism and her enduring legacy as a visionary artist.



Key Takeaways

  • Remedios Varo was a central figure in the Surrealist movement, recognized for weaving mysticism and exacting detail into her art.
  • Varo’s life and art were shaped by political turmoil, migration, and her integration into Mexico’s rich artistic landscape.
  • Her legacy endures through her unique visual style and the lasting impact of her contributions to international surrealism and art history.



Early Life and Influences

BirthDecember 16, 1908
DeathOctober 8, 1963
Place of BirthAnglès, Girona, Spain
Genre of WorkSurrealism, Magic realism, and Fantastic art

Remedios Varo emerged as a pivotal figure in the Surrealist movement, crafting a distinctive visual language that transcended geographic and cultural boundaries. Born María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga, she became renowned for her intricate paintings which often encapsulated themes of mysticism, alchemy, and psychoanalysis. Her work is especially noted for the unique blend of fantastical imagery and precise, almost scientific detail—hallmarks of her approach to art.

Remedios Varo Artworks Roulotte (1956) by Remedios Varo; Quinn Comendant, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While primarily associated with Surrealism, Varo’s oeuvre cannot be confined to a single art movement. Her trajectory was shaped by personal and political upheavals; she fled the Spanish Civil War and later Nazi-occupied France, ultimately settling in Mexico in 1959. It was here that her career flourished, and she became an integral part of the Mexican art scene.

Her circle included other prominent artists and intellectuals, through whom she both influenced and was influenced, contributing to a vibrant cultural exchange.


Education and Early Artistic Development

Born in 1908 in Anglès, Catalonia, Remedios Varo was the daughter of a hydraulic engineer, which led the family to move frequently around Spain and Northern Africa. This migratory lifestyle fostered a diverse exposure to cultures and ideas. In her teenage years, Varo attended a Catholic school in Madrid, which heavily influenced her by introducing disciplined structure and spiritual iconography that would later echo in her work. She pursued her artistic education in Madrid at the renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, where she honed her technical skills and encountered the works of the Renaissance artists, further molding her evolving style.

Remedios Varo Artist The Flautist (1948) by Remedios Varo; verifex, CC BY-NC 4.0, via Flickr


European Artistic Context

The artistic environment in Europe, particularly in Barcelona and Paris, played a significant role in Varo’s development. She relocated to Barcelona, where she immersed herself in the city’s bohemian circles. Barcelona’s avant-garde scene exposed her to modernist currents and ignited her interest in the Surrealist Movement. Varo eventually moved to Paris, the heart of Surrealism, where she met influential figures such as André Breton and Max Ernst.

The Surrealist approach, which blended elements of the mystical, alchemy, and the occult, resonated with her, profoundly impacting her artistic approach.


Spanish Civil War Impact

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 drastically changed Varo’s life, marking the beginning of a period of exile. The war disrupted the cultural scene and brought about a sense of urgency and displacement within the artistic community. As tensions escalated, Varo, along with many others, was compelled to flee Spain due to her connections with Surrealist and anti-fascist circles. Her experiences during this chaotic period deeply influenced her sense of identity and belonging, themes recurrent in her later works.

Remedios Varo Painter Cat Paradise (1955) by Remedios Varo; Scott Ashkenaz, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr


Years in Mexico

Exile led Varo to Mexico City in 1941, where a vibrant community of international artists and intellects awaited. Mexico became not just a refuge but a fertile ground for artistic exploration and collaboration. Here, she forged significant relationships with other exiled Surrealists such as Wolfgang Paalen, Esteban Francés, and especially the surrealist poet Benjamin Péret. Varo also formed a close kinship with fellow Surrealist women artists like Kati Horna and Leonora Carrington. In Mexico, Varo’s work flourished, blending personal symbolism with elements of science, psychology, and mysticism.

Her first major exhibition in Mexico City gained critical acclaim, securing her place in the artistic landscape far from her origins.



Collaborations and Encounters

Remedios Varo’s artistic journey was notably enriched by her collaborations and encounters which informed her unique blend of mysticism and science, melding Renaissance craftsmanship with avant-garde surrealism, and her deep association with other Surrealist artists, particularly those she met during her exile from war-torn Europe.

Remedios Varo Paintings Reflection on the Oracle (1959) by Leonora Carrington; verifex, CC BY-NC 4.0, via Flickr


Mysticism and Science in Art

Varo’s work is a testament to her incorporation of esoteric and scientific elements. Mysticism and science coalesce in her artistic expressions, creating a harmonious dialogue that transcends the traditional boundaries of the two disciplines.

She meticulously combined the occult with scientific concepts, weaving them into her intricate paintings.


Influence of Renaissance and Surrealism

Varo’s artistry was significantly shaped by Renaissance styles and Surrealist thought. Her paintings reflect a dedication to the precise techniques of Renaissance masters, approached with a Surrealist’s eye for the dream-like and the bizarre. This juxtaposition created a distinct aesthetic, apparent in her attention to detail and imaginative subject matter.

Remedios Varo Style Star Maker (1958) by Remedios Varo; C-Monster, CC BY-NC 4.0, via Flickr


Association With Surrealist Artists

Throughout Varo’s life, she formed significant relationships with fellow Surrealist artists who influenced her work deeply. During her time in Paris, she met Benjamin Péret, who became her second husband, and through him, she was immersed in the Surrealist movement. Personal and professional associations with artists like Kati Horna, Esteban Francés, and Wolfgang Paalen allowed for a rich exchange of ideas and influences that shaped her artistic trajectory.

These interactions not only honed her technique but also deepened the thematic complexity of her art, imbuing it with layers of meaning.



Pivotal Artworks and Style

Remedios Varo’s style evolved over her life, combining Surrealism with personal mythologies, rooted in science, magic, and alchemy.

Remedios Varo Examples Starship (1960) by Remedios Varo; Steve C, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr


Key Paintings and Exhibitions

Varo’s career included notable exhibitions in Mexico City, where she settled after fleeing Europe during World War II. Her works, influenced by the Surrealist movement, were exhibited in Mexico and internationally. Notable exhibitions included three solo exhibitions: one in 1964, another in 1971, and a third in 1983.

The emotional depth and technical precision of paintings like Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle captivated audiences and critics alike.


Artistic Techniques and Imagery

In her paintings, Varo often used technical drawings as a base, fusing precision with fantastical elements. Imagery in her works often hints at influences by her contemporaries, Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, and predecessors like Hieronymus Bosch. She seamlessly blended elements of the mystical, occult, and scientific inquiries.

Discover Remedios Varo Sympathy (1955) by Remedios Varo; Steve C, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr


Later Works and Evolution

Varo’s later works showcase an evolution in style and complexity, aligning with her growing interest in alchemy and the occult. Madrid, Paris, and Anglès are locations that played a pivotal role in shaping her early life and experiences before settling in Mexico. Varo’s impact is such that her works are still exhibited worldwide, and she’s referenced in literary works like Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and in the writings of poet Octavio Paz.

The Art Institute of Chicago is among the institutions that have recognized the dualities in her artworks, focusing on their transformative nature.


Themes and Allegory

Themes of allegory, occult, and mysticism are prevalent in Varo’s work. She explored the notion of magic in everyday life, alchemical transformation, and inner spirituality. Her painting, Solar Music, is a direct reflection of mystical and scientific crossroads, while Allegory of Winter imbues a cold season with deep, personal symbolism.

Explore Remedios Varo Gravity (1963) by Remedios Varo; Wayne Stratz, CC BY-NC 4.0, via Flickr



Influences and Comparisons

Remedios Varo’s surrealist paintings weave complex stories influenced by an array of diverse elements, including Salvador Dalí’s symbolism and Max Ernst’s dreamlike quality.

Her work also draws comparisons to the detailed fantastical realms of Hieronymus Bosch.


Influence on Literature

Remedios Varo’s artwork transcended visual mediums, impacting literature with its surreal and mythical themes. Her work resonated with writers who found her paintings rich with symbolism and narrative depth, akin to literary surrealism. Dalí’s symbolic complexity and Bosch’s fantastical narratives found echoes in her art, inspiring authors to explore similar surreal landscapes in their own storytelling.

Remedios Varo Surrealism Born Again (1960) by Remedios Varo; Steve C, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr


Posthumous Recognition and Exhibits

Following her death, Varo’s influence and legacy have been cemented through posthumous exhibitions and recognition. Her paintings have been showcased in galleries worldwide, drawing comparisons to contemporaries like Ernst, for their shared interest in depicting subconscious imagery.

Solo retrospectives in Mexico and prolific publications attest to the enduring interest in and relevance of her work.



Legacy and Influence

Remedios Varo’s posthumous reputation has flourished through continued reverence in art communities and her pivotal role within the Surrealist movement. Her legacy is a tapestry of contributions, recognition, and enduring impact on artists and feminist movements.

Remedios Varo Art The Flight (1961) by Remedios Varo; Steve C, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr


Contributions to Surrealism

Remedios Varo is renowned for her significant impact on the Surrealist movement, particularly during her time in Mexico. She brought a unique perspective that fused science, magic, and mysticism within her artwork.

This set her apart from her contemporaries.


Recognition and Tributes

After her sudden passing in 1963 due to a heart attack, Varo’s work saw a surge of retrospectives. The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the many prestigious institutions that have since acknowledged her contributions. Her shelves of artwork became a rich archive for Surrealist studies and exhibitions.

Famous Remedios Varo Art La creación de las aves (1957) by Remedios Varo; _., CC BY-NC 4.0, via Flickr


Continued Academic and Artistic Study

Scholar Janet A. Kaplan, in her book Unexpected Journeys: The Art and Life of Remedios Varo, highlights the intricate relationship between the psychology and the artistic output of Varo.

Gordon Onslow Ford and Marcel Jean, fellow artists, encountered in Paris, readily recognized her talent, which continues to be a rich resource for academic study.


Influence on Future Generations of Artists

Subsequent generations, particularly female artists, draw upon Remedios Varo’s themes and techniques. Her exploration of androgynous selves and the unconscious has paved the way for artists to venture into unexpected journeys within their creative processes.

Famous Remedios Varo Paintings Visita Inesperada (1958) by Remedios Varo; _, CC BY-NC 4.0, via Flickr


Influence on Feminist Art Movements

Varo’s imagery and defiance of traditional roles for women have made her a feminist icon within the art world. Her contributions have helped reshape how women and their work are perceived, not just in Surrealism but across the wider artistic spectrum.

By threading through the realms of Surrealism, feminists’ rights, and the academic sphere, Remedios Varo has left an indelible mark that continues to inspire and challenge the conventional boundaries of art and gender.


Representation in Modern Media

The legacy of Remedios Varo extends beyond the canvas, influencing modern media representations of the Surrealist movement. Her life in Spain, and later in Mexico City post-Nazi-occupied Paris, has become a reference point for portrayals of historic artistic communities in New York and beyond.



Varo’s Place in Art History

Remedios Varo was a significant figure in the Surrealist movement, particularly in Mexico. Born in Spain, her work effectively bridged European and Mexican art, synthesizing the influence of her native culture with that of her adopted home. Varo integrated themes of the occult and magic into her work, portraying enigmatic and androgynous beings engaged in mystical practices.

These themes reflected her personal interest in the mystical and esoteric realms. In Mexico, Varo became a part of a community of Surrealist artists in exile, where she left a lasting mark on the movement. Her art often explored dualities, a concept she found beautifully symbolized by the yin and yang, reflecting the interplay of opposites in a dynamic balance. Varo’s key contributions included:

  • Bridging of cultures
  • Synthesis of Surrealism with personal mythologies
  • Use of androgynous figures to explore universal human experiences
  • Incorporation of alchemical and mystical elements

Remedios Varo Influence Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst (1960) by Remedios Varo; Steve C, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr

Her skillful blend of personal iconography and Surrealist techniques garnered her a significant place in art history, not only as a feminist icon but also as one of Mexico’s extraordinary painters. Varo’s distinct vision continues to influence modern art and captivate art enthusiasts around the world.


Remedios Varo’s legacy as a surrealist artist is as profound as it is captivating. Through her intricate and thought-provoking paintings, she transported viewers into realms of imagination and wonder, exploring themes of identity, mysticism, and the subconscious mind. Her unique vision and mastery of surrealism have left an indelible mark on the art world, inspiring generations of artists to delve into the depths of their creativity. As we reflect on Varo’s artistic journey and the impact of her work, we celebrate her enduring legacy as a visionary artist whose enchanting creations continue to captivate and inspire us today.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Defining Characteristics of Remedios Varo’s Art Style?

Remedios Varo is known for creating mysterious, detailed paintings that often feature androgynous beings engaged in fantastical activities. Her work typically combines elements of the natural world with the occult, reflecting her interest in alchemy and magic.


What Contributions Did Remedios Varo Make to the Art World?

Varo is considered a significant figure in the Surrealist movement, known for her personal iconography and technical prowess. Influenced by her background in scientific illustration and her spiritual studies, she created works that delved into the subconscious and mystical realms, contributing to the broader understanding of Surrealism.


Where Can Remedios Varo’s Paintings Be Viewed?

Her paintings are housed in various public and private collections worldwide. Notable institutions with her work include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. Exhibitions of her work occasionally tour, offering a wider audience the chance to experience her visionary art.


Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “Remedios Varo – The Pinnacle of Mexican Surrealism.” Art in Context. April 29, 2024. URL:

Meyer, I. (2024, 29 April). Remedios Varo – The Pinnacle of Mexican Surrealism. Art in Context.

Meyer, Isabella. “Remedios Varo – The Pinnacle of Mexican Surrealism.” Art in Context, April 29, 2024.

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