National Galleries of Scotland acquires first ever Remedios Varo oil painting to enter a European collection

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National Galleries of Scotland acquires first ever Remedios Varo oil painting to enter a European collection
National Galleries of Scotland acquires first ever Varo painting to enter a European collection. Photo: Nick Mailer.

EDINBURGH.- The National Galleries of Scotland announced the acquisition of Encounter (1959), by world-renowned Surrealist artist Remedios Varo (1908-1963). Extremely rare and sought-after, this is the first oil painting by Varo to enter a public collection in Europe. Encounter is on display and free to view at Modern One from today, 12 March.

The work was acquired in time to mark the centenary of the publication in Paris of André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924, which effectively launched the movement. A significant and exciting acquisition for the people of Scotland, Varo only completed about 100 paintings in her lifetime, with most in public collections in Mexico. Only able to dedicate herself fully to creating art in the last decade of her life, Encounter was produced in 1959, at the height of Varo’s career.

The concept of the encounter – especially the chance encounter – was a subject favoured by the Surrealists for its mysterious potential. In this striking composition, a seated figure carefully lifts the lid on a tiny casket to find her own eyes staring back at her. Several similar boxes sit on the shelves in the background, suggesting that there are more “selves” to be discovered. Many of the figures that Varo painted resemble the artist herself, and this work is believed to be a self-portrait.

Varo said of the work: “This poor woman, full of curiosity and expectation as she opened the little coffer, encounters her own self; in the background, on the shelves, there are more little coffers, and who knows whether on opening them she will find something new.”

Born in Girona, Catalonia, in north-east Spain, Remedios Varo was a Surrealist painter and poet. Her father, an engineer, recognised her artistic talent from a young age and encouraged her to copy his technical drawings, which would influence her compositions for the rest of her life. She was one of the first female students to attend the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, where she enrolled at the age of 15, and later received her diploma as an art teacher. In 1935, after moving to Paris, Varo encountered artists engaging with Surrealist concepts, and was later introduced to the poet and founder of the Surrealist movement, André Breton. After fleeing Nazi-occupied France in 1941, Varo settled in Mexico, where she was one of a small but important group of Surrealist poets, painters and photographers. These artists include Kati Horna and Leonora Carrington, with whom she forged a creative alliance but also an enduring, life-long friendship.

Using a combination of chance and planned techniques, Varo produced work that was influenced by science and the occult in equal measure. The resulting images are as mysterious as they are technically brilliant, often depicting enchanted domestic scenes and strange encounters with otherworldly beings. Playing with the magical and spiritual potential of interior spaces, Varo sought power in ordinary rooms — in dusty corridors, and creaking doorways — transforming them into fantasy realms that overflow with possibility.

In the last ten years, the National Galleries of Scotland has made efforts to acquire major works of art by female artists. This latest unique acquisition will help to expand the collection and give a more comprehensive view of Surrealism as a diverse, international movement, rather than one simply centred in Paris. Other recent acquisitions include major artworks by Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning and more recently, archival material related to Edith Rimmington.

Simon Groom, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “We’re thrilled to have acquired this incredibly rare and important painting by Remedios Varo. Her career as a full-time artist lasted little more than a decade. She worked slowly and meticulously, completing only about a hundred paintings, many of which are now in museum collections in Mexico and the USA. They are breathtaking gems which one seldom sees outside books. There’s not a single painting by her in a public collection outside the Americas. Or rather that was the case until now. Moreover, Encounter is a key work in her oeuvre, a self-portrait which deals with self-discovery and identity. It cements the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection of Surrealist art as one of the very finest in the world.”

Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund, said: “Artist Remedios Varo’s haunting painting, ‘Encounter’ into the Scottish National Galleries’ collection will captivate visitors from Scotland and across the UK. This painting is a key addition to Scottish National Galleries’ growing collection of major works by women artists. I’m delighted that Art Fund has been able to support this important Surrealist work to enter the permanent collection, thanks to our generous donors and National Art Pass members.”

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