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María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo and Uranga (Anglès, Gerona, Spain, December 16, 1908 – Mexico City, October 8, 1963), known as Remedios Varo , was a surrealist painter, writer and Spanish graphic artist exiled politically in Mexico first and later naturalized Mexican. She was one of the first women who studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid. In 1932 she settled in Barcelona where she worked as an advertising designer and joined the Catalan surrealist group Logicofobista. In 1937 he traveled to Paris with the French surrealist poet Benjamin Péret and in 1941 with the arrival of the Nazis in the French capital, he went into exile in Mexico. He never returned to Spain. Varo’s work evokes a world born of his imagination where the scientific, the mystical, the esoteric and the magical are mixed.
He was born in Anglès, in the province of Gerona and grew up from 9 years old in Madrid where his family moved his residence. His father, Rodrigo Varo and Zejalvo, was a free-thinking engineer of Esperanto, concerned about social issues and lover of mineralogy, of Andalusian origin.His mother, Ignacia Uranga and Begareche, was of Basque descent. Remedios was the second of three brothers; the two men, Rodrigo and Luis.
María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo and Uranga carried her most popular name, Remedios, because her birth came to “remedy” her mother’s recent loss of one of her daughters. She had a sick life with heart problems and showed a natural inclination for painting since she was a child.
Rodrigo Varo’s profession forced the family to move his residence. First to Morocco and in 1917 to Madrid where Remedios received a basic instruction in Catholic schools and later he was artistically trained.
Period 1924 – 1941
In 1924, at the age of fifteen, encouraged by her father, she entered the San Fernando Academy becoming one of the first female students of the academy. In this period he shared gatherings and experiences in the Student Residence with artists such as García Lorca and Dalí. In 1930 he participated in a collective exhibition organized by the Union of Cartoonists of Madrid.
At the end of his studies he married a fellow of the Academy, Gerardo Lizarraga, and they both settled in Paris for a year.
In 1932, he returned to Spain and settled in the Republican Barcelona, in the neighborhood of Gracia, where he had his house and studio, in the Plaza de Lesseps, developing his work as an advertising artist. the political-libertarian-and creative climate.
In 1935 he shared the studio with the surrealist painter Esteban Francés, who introduced her to the surrealist circle of André Breton. In July Marcel Jean arrived in Barcelona with Óscar Domínguez. All of them made precious exquisite corpses, collective drawings started by a participant of the game, covered and continued by the next player resulting in surprising collages.The same year he exhibited his drawings in Madrid together with Josep-Lluís Florit and among his paintings is Composition.
He joined the Catalan surrealist group Logicofobista, which aimed to represent the inner mental states of the soul, using suggestive forms of such states.During his collaboration with this group, Remedios Varo painted L’Agent Double, a work that would anticipate his style In May 1936, he participated in a historic Logicofobista exhibition at the Catalònia bookshop in Barcelona together with Artur Carbonell, Leandre Cristòfol, Àngel Ferrant, Esteve Francès, Gamboa-Rothwoss, AG Lamolla, Ramon Marinel·lo, Joan Massanet, Maruja Mallo, Àngel Planells, Jaume Sans, Nadia Sokolova and Joan Ismael.
During the Spanish Civil War, he positioned himself on the Republican side. In this period and during his active support to the anti-fascists, he met the French surrealist poet Benjamin Péret in 1936, affiliated with the POUM, arrived in Barcelona with the International Brigades and considered in the chronicles of the artist’s life as “his great love” In 1937 he broke the relationship with Gerardo Lizarraga and went with Péret to France, he never returned to Spain, residing for the second time in Paris, where both stayed until the Nazi invasion in 1941. Besides André Breton in France he met Max Ernst, Victor Brauner, Joan Miró, Wolfgang Paalen and Leonora Carrington.
He loved to join surrealist bohemians to photograph himself dressed as a bullfighter, sell cakes in the street or send letters to strangers whose names he chose at random in the phone book, one of his favorite “surrealist acts” notes Isabel Navarro in 2007 recalling your figure.
In 1937 he participated in the International Exhibition of Surrealism in Tokyo and his work Le désir (1935) was reproduced in number 10 of the French surrealist magazine Minotaure.
The artist left France in 1941 after being arrested by the Nazis for being Peret’s partner. After thousands of vicissitudes she and Péret finally fled to Mexico with the help of Varian Fry, where thanks to the policy of President Lázaro Cárdenas for hosting political refugees, they were able to become naturalized and develop a work activity.
In the 1940 International Exposition of Surrealism in Mexico, directed by Inés Amor in the Mexican Art Gallery, one of her paintings called Remembrance of the Walkyria had already been exhibited. Already established in Mexico, Peret and Remedios were integrated into a circle of friends and artists among which were César Moro, Esteban Francés, Gerardo Lizárraga, Leonora Carrington, Octavio Paz and Eva Sulzer who was an important patron of the exiled artists. 12] During the 1940s, Remedios carried out various craft, decoration and publicity works, including a collaboration with Marc Chagall in the costumes for the Aleko ballet, which premiered at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
In 1947, he separated from Benjamin Péret, who returned to Paris, although Varo maintained contact with the poet by supporting him economically and accompanying him on his deathbed in 1959. Thanks to his previous contacts and his activities in Mexico, Remedios He left that year to Venezuela, as a member of a scientific expedition of the French Institute of Latin America where he carried out microscopic studies of mosquitoes as part of the anti-malaria health campaign. In Venezuela, in addition to his work as an entomological illustrator, he was able to continue sending advertising posters for Bayer, as well as working a short time for the Venezuelan malariology institute.
In the year 1949 he returned to Mexico, where he continued with his work as an advertising illustrator. In 1952 he married again, this time with the Austrian politician Walter Gruen, with whom he remained until his death.In 1955, he presented his works to the public in a first collective exhibition, at the Diana gallery in Mexico City, followed by following year of an individual exhibition.
During her stay in Mexico, she met artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but established stronger ties of friendship with other intellectuals in exile, particularly with British surrealist painter Leonora Carrington. Their friendship will be fundamental for both both the painted and the written work.
In 1952 she married Walter Gruen, an Austrian refugee politician devoted to her work, who convinced her to dedicate herself exclusively to painting and provided stability.
In 1955, Mexico hosted its first exhibition. In 1958, Varo obtained the first place in the First Exhibition of Female Art in the Excelsior Galleries.
He stood out during the time of Mexican muralism, not as a muralist but with his paintings exhibited in various Mexican institutions, including the National Institute of Cardiology where the painting of Dr. Chavez (1957), a tribute to the Mexican doctor Ignacio, hangs. Chávez, cardiologist of the painter.
The life of Remedios was surrounded by mysticism, its themes of interest ranged from psychoanalytic theory to alchemy, as expressed in many of his paintings.
For example, in the triptych made in 1961, which consists of the works Towards the Tower, Bordando terrestrial mantle and The flight, translates his own life story to a surrealist representation.
A service he had access to was the practice of psychoanalysis, in fact, the mysticism in his paintings was influenced by the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Alfred Adler. It is clearly visible in the 1960 picture Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst, of which, in a letter to her brother, she mentions the following:
This lady who leaves the psychoanalyst throwing her father’s head into a well (as is proper to do when leaving the psychoanalyst). In the basket carries other psychological waste: a clock, symbol of the fear of being late, and so on. The doctor’s name is Dr. FJA (Freud, Jung, Adler).
Until the end of his life he could not live from painting. She always made artistic works of survival, especially as an advertising illustrator. He also painted musical instruments and furniture; he made the sets of the film “La aldea maldita”, by Florián Rey; he forged commissioned paintings by Giorgio de Chirico and designed costumes and headdresses for theater and ballet with Leonora Carrington and Marc Chagall.
He died on October 8, 1963 in Mexico City of a myocardial infarction. In his study was the last work he painted, Still Life Resuscitating, and the sketch of what would be his next painting, Music of the Forest.
At his death, André Breton wrote: “Surrealism claims all the work of a sorceress who left too early”.
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