REMEDIOS VARO (1908-1963)
REMEDIOS VARO (1908-1963)
REMEDIOS VARO (1908-1963)
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REMEDIOS VARO (1908-1963)
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REMEDIOS VARO (1908-1963)

Creación con rayos astrales

Details
REMEDIOS VARO (1908-1963)
Creación con rayos astrales
signed 'R. Varo' (lower right)
oil and tempera on Masonite
26 1/2 x 16 3/4 in. (67.3 x 43 cm.)
Painted in 1955
Provenance
Private collection, Mexico City.
Galería Antonio Souza, Mexico City.
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 27 November 1984, lot 37.
Private collection, Florida.
Private collection, Mexico City.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2008.
Literature
R. Ovalle, et al., Remedios Varo, Catalogue Raisonné, Mexico City, Ediciones Era, 1994, p. 258, n. 120 (illustrated in color, p. 112).
R. Ovalle, et al., Remedios Varo, Catalogue Raisonné Second Revised Edition, Mexico City, Ediciones Era, 1998, p. 258, n. 120 (illustrated in color, p. 112).
R. Ovalle, et al., Remedios Varo, Catalogue Raisonné Third Edition, Mexico City, Ediciones Era, 2002, p. 322, n. 120 (illustrated in color, p. 172).
R. Ovalle, et al., Remedios Varo, Catalogue Raisonné Fourth Edition, Mexico City, Ediciones Era, 2008, p. 322, n. 120 (illustrated in color, p. 172).
E. A. Hernández, "Abren su universo con Cinco Llaves," El economista, no. 1362, 2008 (illustrated on cover and p. 8 in color).
Y. Israde, "Revelan hoy inéditos de Varo en el MAM," Reforma, 2008 (illustrated in color).
V. Cirlot, Remedios Varo. Constelaciones, Buenos Aires, Malba, 2020 (illustrated in color, p. XVIII).
Exhibited
Mexico City, Galería Antonio Souza, June 1958.
Lima, Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo, Pintura Mexicana Contemporánea de la Galería Antonio Souza, April 1961.
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno, Five Keys to the Secret World of Remedios Varo, 2008 (illustrated in color, p. 51).
Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt; Humlebæk, Denmark, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Fantastic Women: Surreal Worlds from Meret Oppenheim to Frida Kahlo, 13 February - 8 November 2020 (illustrated in color, p. 283).
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Post lot text
This painting is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by Walter Gruen, dated 24 January 2008.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of 20th Century Evening Sale, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art

Lot Essay

“I can see that my life—not only in material or emotional terms, but also my intellectual life—is there in the land I sincerely love with all its faults, shortcomings, and hardships,” Remedios Varo reflected of Mexico, her adopted country, in a letter to her last husband, Walter Gruen, in 1958 (quoted in “Remedios Varo: A Biographical Sketch,” The Magic of Remedios Varo, exh. cat., National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 146). She had fled Europe at the end of 1941, following the German occupation of France, and like fellow émigrés Benjamin Péret, Leonora Carrington, and Alice Rahon she became enamored with the land that André Breton once called “the Surrealist place par excellence.” In the decade before her arrival, Varo had established herself first among the avant-garde in Barcelona, creating cadavres exquis and joining the Logicofobistas, a quasi-Surrealist group, and then in Paris beginning in 1937. “My position was the timid and humble one of a listener,” she recalled of her entrée into the Surrealist circle. “I was not old enough nor did I have the aplomb to face up to them, to a Paul Éluard, a Benjamin Péret, or an André Breton. There I was with my mouth gaping open within this group of brilliant and gifted people” (quoted in J. Kaplan, Unexpected Journeys: The Art and Life of Remedios Varo, New York, 1988, pp. 55-56). Yet if she initially played the passive role of femme-enfant, Varo soon established herself as a creative force within the movement, participating in its collaborative games (for example, the Jeu de dessin communiqué) and its deep studies of esoterica and theories of the occult. Candescent and phantasmagorical, Creación con rayos astrales exemplifies Varo’s mystical and painterly prowess at the peak of her creative period, the year of her first exhibition in Mexico City.

“I came to Mexico searching for the peace that I had not found, neither in Spain—that of the revolution—nor in Europe—that of the terrible war,” Varo later acknowledged. “For me it was impossible to paint amidst such anguish.” She found solace and friendship in an expatriate circle that included Luis Buñuel, César Moro, and Wolfgang Paalen, among others, and filled the house she shared with Péret, on calle Gabino Barreda, with talismans, crystals, and stones. But it was the extraordinary friendship that she developed with Carrington, who arrived the next year and settled close by, that catalyzed new dimensions of creativity, encompassing collaborative playwriting, alchemical cooking—“recipes and advice for scaring away inopportune dreams, insomnia, and deserts of quicksand under the bed”—and above all the magic of painting (quoted in ibid., p. 85 and 95). The two women met daily, and together they studied the mystics P.D. Ouspensky and George Gurdjieff as well as Tarot and astrology, whose ideas percolated through their work, often manifested in empowered female protagonists. Varo supported herself with a variety of commercial work during her first decade in Mexico, notably illustrations for the pharmaceutical firm Casa Bayer; not until her marriage to Gruen, in 1952, did she have the wherewithal to devote herself fully to painting.

“Conceiving whole scenes in her head, Varo began with meticulous drawings, working from live models for details of pose and gesture and from illustrated encyclopedias and objects she collected for furniture and prop details,” described art historian Janet Kaplan of Varo’s work from this seminal period. “She transferred her completed drawings using a technique adapted from the methods of early Renaissance panel painters, pressing detail by detail through tracing paper onto the stiff fiberboard that she had carefully prepared with a white gesso ground. Painting with thin glazes of oil and layers of varnish, she built up luminous color surfaces to which she added minute details, using a single-hair brush for precision. She also blew and blotted paint and added further details and highlights by scratching into the surface to reveal the gesso beneath. The resulting combination of exquisitely controlled details and loosely flowing surfaces became a hallmark of Varo’s style” (ibid., p. 125).

The brilliant and meticulously crafted surface of Creación con rayos astrales exemplifies Varo’s mastery of these techniques. The painting takes as its source the cover illustration by Johann Heinrich Störchlin of the third volume of Beati Raymundi Lulli doctoris illuminati et martyris Operum, published in Mainz in 1722. A Catalan mystic, Ramon Llull (1232-1316) conceived of a system of universal logic—the Ars—in which philosophy, mysticism, and theology are seen as complementary sources of truth. His sundry interests, from a “sixth sense” to interfaith dialogue and symbolic notations, doubtless held great appeal to Varo. In Creación con rayos astrales, as in the print, the multiple refractions of light—bouncing between the emerald-green stars and mirrors and the spectral, gossamer-like body—explore the symbolism of mirrors as mystical tools of divination, magic, and transformation. Astral light is similarly thematized in Solar Music (1955), but here Varo emphasizes the cosmic synergies of (androgynous) man in an enchanted, elemental universe.

“In their struggle with reality, some painters violate it or cover it with signs, explode it or bury it, flay it,” wrote the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz in a moving tribute to Varo. “Remedios volatizes it: it is not blood but light that flows through its body.” Musing on her “mirror-image painting: not the world in reverse, but the reverse of the world,” his poem concludes:

In Appearance she paints Disappearance.

Roots, fronds, rays, locks of hair, flowing
beards, spirals of sound: threads of death,
of life, of time. The weft is woven and un-
woven: the unreality that we call life, the
unreality that we call death…only the canvas
is real. Remedios the anti-Moira.

She does not paint time, but the moments when
time is resting.

In her world of stopped clocks, we hear the
flow of substances, the circulation of shadow
and light: time ripening.

Forms seek their own form, form seeks its own
dissolution.

(“Remedios Varo’s Appearances and Disappearances,” 1966, in ibid., pp. 230-231)

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
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