Gypsy and Harlequin – Remedios Varo Urania (1908-1963) was one of the most notable female surrealist painters in the 20th century. The Spanish born artists used movements, associations, beliefs, as well as her imagination to deliver outstanding work that’s influential today.
Her interactions with proto-feminists, being part of the surrealist movement, knowledge in modern sculpture as well as her multicultural background led to the delivery of dreamy and visionary artwork.
- Original Title: Gitana y Arlequin
- Style: Surrealism
- Genre: Symbolic Painting
Gypsy and Harlequin (1947)
Gypsy and Harlequin is one of Varo’s popular works. This is a symbolic painting that uses the gouache technique. At a glance, we two a settlement street that’s fully littered with shattered remains of some household items. Gypsy and Harlequin is the perfect description of a chaotic environment which seems to be deserted.
There are only two figures in the street and they are standing in front of what seems to be a floating mirror. These two figures are your Gypsy and Harlequin. It should be noted that this mirror doesn’t appear to be physical but instead, it seems to be a floating and swirling scene.
Remedios Varo Other Paintings
Varo’s father played an influential role in nurturing her artistic skills as a painter. He was an engineer by profession and through him, the young Varo learned how to technically draw objects. He was her mentor, helping her to sharpen her drawings. Besides that, her father also helped to trigger her vivid imaginations by getting her adventure and fantasy books to read.
While her father was a philosophical and technical person, her mother’s religious side also contributed to Varo’s spirituality. She was generally a wholesome person whose background played a crucial part in her paintings. Some of the most popular pieces of artwork by Remedios Varo include:
1. Still Life Reviving Remedios Varo (1963)
This painting features an arrangement of objects that don’t move. Remedios Varo brings into life (Still Life) this genre of painting by using fruits, a candle, plates, and a table set.
The fruits are perfectly captured in the stillness of motion around the lamp. This is highlighted by several whitish axes that the fruits are supposed to be orbiting around. Down and slightly above the table is greyish plates which are also caught in stillness. They are supposed to be navigating around the candle, just like the fruits.
2. Eyes on the Table (1938)
This is a symbolic painting that features the gouache painting technique. Varo uses an opaque watercolor with natural pigmentation to deliver an allegory of the content. There are several hidden meanings from this painting, but at a glance, we can definitely see a pair of eyes on the table. However, the eyes don’t have lashes and instead, they are found on the glasses. So, what’s the hidden meaning of this?
3. Remedios Dead Leaves (1956)
In Dead Leaves, Varo used an oil technique to make this symbolic painting. The artwork features multiple themes including allegories and symbols, wall decoration, in addition to themes relating to birth and death.
Remedios Varo Dead Leaves features a young woman with long red hair. She seems to be winding a type of endless ball of thread from a man’s heart which features an endless corridor with successive entrances.
Well, there birds emerging from the entrances but it seems that doors are getting deeper and smaller as you look deeper into the background. These entrances are found on the chest silhouette of a male person who seems to be naked. He’s also standing on a carpet, hands slightly stretched out and his head bowed.
The woman, even though she’s holding a thread that connects to the man’s “heart”, doesn’t seem to be aware of her surroundings, including the silhouette presence of a man. She seems to be lost deep in her thoughts. So, could this image of a silhouetted man be a creature of her imagination?
4. Cats Paradise (1955)
Remedios Varo Cats Paradise is a sweet symbolic painting featuring cats. This painting depicts what paradise is, only that it’s now home to cats. There are two magnificent towers, forests, and green grass, and thread swings.
This is a well-manicured environment that speaks of freshness that can only be found in paradise. Centrally located are two towers with striped cat peeping from the window of one of the towers.
There is a black and white cat close to the second tower while a white kitten is seemingly overlooking the former. Three cats are resting in the foreground. A brown striped cat on the right, a grey cat, and a reddish cat seemingly hanging comfortably on a ground.
There are three kittens (2 black and one white) playing on the hanging threads, close to the trees. On the far left background is what seems to be a water body and then a mansion.
Remedios Varo used smooth strokes of brushes to bring out a calm and relaxed vibe in this painting. The grass-thatched orange towers, the green trees, and grass, in addition to the perfect set of the cats, bring out a clear definition of the cats’ paradise.
5. Witch Going to the Sabbath (1957)
The symbolic painting’s theme is just witches! There is a witch with a long stretch of red hair and some white frontal patches. The witch is holding a long-feathered bird on the left hand and a glittering diamond on the right hand.
Remedios Varo Painting Style
Varo had a day job and she also designed advertising and marketing materials for a certain pharmaceutical company. Much of the work she did deeply resonated with her pieces of artwork. They intertwined from time to time.
One thing that stands out from her work is the brushwork involved featured fine strokes of paint that were carefully laid close together. As a matter of fact, her style of painting was closely associated with egg tempera. The colors she used as well as the mature painting style made her work easily recognizable.
Note: Varo’s mature style of painting started to develop at the end of the 1940s. This style effectively synthesized with fumage, frottage, and decalcomania techniques in a surrealist painting. Decalcomania is the art of transferring art designs from one medium to the next. Frottage is a technique that involves rubbing charcoal or chalk over the paper while fumage involves the use of smoke to paint.
It is worth noting that her painting works simply belonged to her. Varo’s style of painting was unique because it was unusual. For starters, her paintings were prepared on Masonite panels and her technique of delivery involved carefully layered strokes.
According to professional analysts, she focused more on balancing the tempera rather than the usual approach that oil painters used. The outcome of these paintings was something mature and magical. Her artwork had great textural qualities, delivering a captivating feeling to the eyes of the viewer.
You can easily feel the creative genius in her images. They have some sort of emotional nuance in addition to ripe imagination, symbolism, stillness, and in some instances allegories. We also note that she used similar themes repeatedly but always ensuring that each artwork delivers its own message.
Her intellectual abilities, connections, as well as beliefs all, come to play when we look at her paintings. There are mysterious figures, everyday objects, silhouettes, and spirituality in her work. The feminist and the painter couldn’t even be limited by her imagination.
Remedios Varo Lifestyle
Even though she was born in Spain’s Girona province, Varo fled to Paris during the Spanish Civil war. Her move was triggered by her association with the surrealist movement. It’s in Paris that she met her second husband, a French nationalist who was also a surrealist.
In 1941, however, Varo was forced into exile during the Nazi occupation in French. Although according to her this was a temporary move, she ended up staying in this country for the rest of her life. During her time here, she met some of the most influential artists at that period including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo among others.
However, she closely tied herself to the expatriates and other exiles who were residing here. Varo met here 3rd husband here, Walter Guren. The Austrian was a major part of her artwork creation, always supporting her and this ensured that she fully concentrated on her impeccable paintings.
Note: Remedios Varo’s first husband wasn’t known to the public when she was alive. It was only discovered after she had died that she had been married to Gerardo Lizarraga, a painter, and they had actually never divorced.
The Bottom Line
Remedios Varo’s beliefs and associations played a crucial part in her style and type of painting. As a person involved in the surrealist movement, most pieces of her artwork feature surrealism. Her interaction with like-minded artists as well had been influential in carving her painting technique.
A careful analysis of her work indicates that she was somehow inspired by other Spanish surrealists such as Dali. Besides that, there are great indicators that her work is closely intertwined with those of Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico.
Even after her death, Varo’s artwork is still in widespread use. There is no doubt that here painting collections are still relatable, thanks to her dream-like content delivery technique which normally triggers different emotions and interpretations.
Painter: Remedios Varo
Date of art creation: 1947
Art movement: Surrealism
Genre of painting: Symbolic painting
Painting technique: Gouache
Painting material: Cardboard
Dimensions: 32 x 25 cm
Location: Private Collection
Content: Allegories-and-symbols, gypsies, harlequins