Learning from the rich imagery of surrealism…Remedios Varo ART FOR WRITERS
This extraordinary painting is by the Catalan-Mexican surrealist painter Remedios Varo. It was completed in 1955 and called ‘Sympathy’ (originally the Madness of the cat).
“I do not wish to talk about myself because I hold very deeply the belief that what is important is the work, not the person.”
That’s true I guess and we don’t need to know anything about Remedios to appreciate the painting. I was attracted by the colours and the expression on the woman’s face. Is there another cat underneath her dress? And is the woman actually part cat? Her skin colour echos the gold of the cat’s fur and her hair is standing up in much the same way as the cat’s. Is the bond between woman and cat more than affection?.
In an article called Feminine, Feminist and Sinister: Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Occult Imagery, art historian Eria Rojas wrote:
“On its surface, it depicts a light-hearted scene. A mischievous cat, jumps on a table, knocks over a glass and is cosseted by its indulgent mistress. But a glance at the details reveals its magic…In this painting, Varo has not only released the ferocious powers of the feline from beneath the floorboards, she exults in them as she makes them her own.”
Having said that we don’t need to know that much about Remedios Varo, she did have an extraordinary life. Born in the Spanish province of Girona, in 1924 she went to study at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, the alma mater of Salvador Dalí among other famous artists. She was only 15 and it was a time when few women entered any kind of higher education.
She fled to Paris during the Spanish Civil War where she became part of the surrealist movement. When France was occupied she and her second husband, the French surrealist poet Benjamin Péret, were arrested by the Nazis. After their release they both fled again, this time to Mexico where there was a thriving art culture. She died in 1963, at the height of her career. A known Republican, she wasn’t able to return to Spain during Franco’s dictaorship. He unlived her by nearly 15 years.
Have a look for her other paintings. They are are all rich in imagery. Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle was a main inspiration for Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49.