Remedios Varo - Latin America New York Wednesday, May 24, 2017 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Collection of Carmel Gerdes, Mexico City
    Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    W. Gruen and R. Ovalle, Remedios Varo – Catálogo Razonado, Mexico City, 2008, p. 291 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Born in the province of Gerona, Spain, Remedios Varo immigrated to Mexico at the end of 1941. Previously Varo had been involved with André Breton’s inner circle, leading to her inclusion in landmark exhibitions such as Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in December 1936. However, it was her new life in Mexico that provided a true escape from the horrors of World War II, breathing new life into her painting and giving her the freedom to break from the orthodox Surrealist canon of Europe.

    Varo’s mature work—influenced by her interest in medieval alchemy and psychoanalysis—is meticulous in execution, evincing her mastery of frottage and decalcomania, traditional Surrealist techniques. Her paintings also show influence of old masters, such as Hieronymous Bosch, El Greco, and Francisco Goya, demonstrating a complex understanding of art history as well as avant-garde styles. When she arrived in Mexico, Varo quickly became close with a thriving community of expatriate artists, such as Leonora Carrington, Wolfgang Paalen and Alice Rahon. She also began incorporating the magical syncretism and mystical energy of the fantastic—ancient beliefs that were embedded in ancient indigenous Mexican culture—into her body of work. By both physically and metaphorically distancing herself from the French Surrealism—whose rules imposed strict limits on women—Varo no longer feared being labeled the “femme fatale” and could freely explore new terrain in her art. As an expatriate, she was not tied to European or Mexican conventions, allowing to explore her inner self in a much more intimate way. One of her most important contributions to Surrealism was the activation of female subjects in her composition; rather than depicting women as muses or sexual objects, Varo’s female characters confidently explore new worlds, making scientific discoveries and accomplishing other complex tasks. The present work, La libélula (Dragonfly Woman, circa 1961, is a prime example of her work, depicting an exquisitely painted female figure at the forefront of the picture plane staring directly out at the viewer with confidence and authority, thus showcasing her power and authority.

    However, there is also a coyness to La libélula, adding a sense of mystery to the work. Varo suffered from bouts of depression and her paintings often reflect a certain level of personal suffering, albeit not in an explicit manner. She was purposefully ambiguous in this area, as she refused to encourage the notions of gender inferiority from Carl Jung and Alfred Adler. Thus, Varo would represent melancholia through techniques like the aforementioned decalcomania—where wet paint is spread on a surface and then transferred to another surface, creating an autonomous design that arises from chance rather than the artist’s intention. Max Ernst was particularly fond of this practice and would use it to create eerie, biomorphic textures and ambiguous landscapes in his canvases. In the present lot, Varo has expertly utilized decalcomania to achieve the delicate white cape-like covering of the dragonfly woman, which almost appears as translucent wings, juxtaposed against the hazy and indistinct auburn background. Additionally, if one looks closely at the figure in this composition, one notices what is arguably the tail of the Cheshire Cat, thereby giving the work a lighter fairytale feeling—much like the work of her friend Leonora Carrington—and also showing Varo’s employment of the Surrealist game, cadavre exquis, whereby two or more artists would collaborate to create a hybrid creature. Any source of sunlight is noticeably absent, as is often the case in Varo’s work. This lack of light alludes to the constant dusk in medieval towns and harkens back to her inner turmoil and past memories of war-torn Europe.
    The present work evokes “a strong alternative voice within the surrealist idiom. A re-negotiation of the surrealist and Mexican artistic enterprise that Varo was able to achieve on her own terms and in her own voice” (J. Kaplan, Remedios Varo – Catálogo Razonado, Mexico City, 2008, p. 35), ultimately setting Varo apart from the European Surrealists, thereby achieving a new artistic language that would combine both her past and present experiences in an entirely unique way.

  • Artist Biography

    Remedios Varo

    Spanish / Mexican • 1908 - 1963

    Spanish-born Remedios Varo is widely recognized as a pioneer of Surrealism in Latin America. Varo formally trained at Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid and spent many of her formative years in Barcelona and Paris. While in Paris, Varo met Andre Breton and many other members of the Surrealist circle, including Max Ernst and Roberto Matta. With the onset of World War II and the Nazi occupation of France, Varo fled to Mexico along with other European artists and intellectuals including Kati Horna, Leonora Carrington and Gunther Gerzso.  While Varo's work was undoubtedly influenced by Breton's surrealist writings, her mature works are often reminiscent of both Italian and Flemish Renaissance paintings in their allegorical nature and use of subtle tonalities.

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La Mujer libélula (Dragonfly Woman)

signed "R. VARO" lower left
oil, gouache and ink on paper mounted on masonite
25 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (65.7 x 20 cm)
Painted circa 1961, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Walter Gruen.

$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $394,000

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale, Latin American Art
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York Auction 24 May 2017