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Remedios Varo

Born 16 December 1908
Died 8 October 1963

The Early Years

Remedios Varo - who was born near Barcelona in 1908 - owed her name to the fact that her parents' older daughter had died. The new baby was named in honour of the Virgen de los Remedios, as a "remedy" for the Varos' earlier loss.

As a child, Varo was given many opportunities to travel - which was unusual at the time. Her father was a hydraulic engineer who often took his wife and children - Varo had two brothers - with him on trips throughout Spain and to north Africa.

When she was eight the family settled in Madrid and Varo was sent to a convent school. But she was rebellious and yearned to escape the strictures and routines of what she saw as a narrow upbringing. Art provided an escape, and at the age of 15 she became a full time student at the most prestigious art school in Madrid, the Academia de San Fernando. A few years later, in 1930, in a further attempt to cement her independence from her family and from the strict social mores of Spain, Varo married a fellow artist, Gerardo Lizarrago: an entry point, for her, into a more Bohemian lifestyle.

European Years

The couple headed for Paris, lured by the pull of the most artistically-exciting city of the day. There Varo enrolled into an art school - but quickly decided that she was not looking for more restrictions, and that she preferred instead to paint, to wander the streets, and to hang out in the Parisian cafes. A year or so later she and Lizarrago moved to Barcelona, where they joined a group of artists and writers, who were interested in Surrealism. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) he also met the French Surrealist poet Benjamin Peret, who was to become her partner for many years.

In 1937 the couple returned to France. Through Peret, Varo became part of the Surrealist circle that had Andre Breton as its centre: other artists she met there included Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar, Max Ernst - and Leonora Carrington.

Like Carrington, Varo was much younger than most of the leading, male, Surrealist figures of the day - but she always maintained that she was more than a muse. She was an active player in the Surrealist movement, taking part in exhibitions, collaborating on works - and taking part in the endless, and ongoing, café conversations about Surrealism and the world.

To Mexico

With the arrival of the Nazis into Paris in 1940, Varo fled. She ended up, eventually, at the Villa Air-Bel in Marseilles where the American Varian Fry was helping artists and intellectuals escape across the Atlantic. In 1941, Varo and Peret left France for Mexico.

There, her powerful imagination would crystalise into a series of enigmatic and often disturbing paintings which are exquisite and superbly executed. By the time she died - aged 54, in 1963 - she was widely acknowledged as one of Mexico's greatest 20th century artists.