Painting “Harmony (Self-Portrait)” by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a record for the evening sale of works by surrealists and modernists at the auction house Sotheby’s. The panel, for which it was supposed to gain 2-3 million dollars, left the hammer for 6 million 186 thousand. Now it has become the most expensive work of the artist, ever exhibited at the auction.
 
“Remedios Varo has musical resonances when unheard melodies reveal magical powers and supernatural charms, releasing amazing energy charges that burst into the world of mortals… “Harmony” was conceived as a self-portrait, where the author takes on the role of the organizer of the universe, using a sheet music mill to connect with creatures from other dimensions through magical crystals and formulas,” wrote American art historian Luis-Martin Lozano.

The art of Remedios Varo was one of the most significant contributions to the history of surrealism. The foundation and iconography of her paintings is a unique layer of influences – from medieval history and Greek mythology to scientific research and alchemy, nature, music, and pagan practices. Varo’s reality is rich in fantasies and she presents her picturesque universe with scientific care. It’s a methodical explanation for the mystical.

The mystical scene by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a world record
Harmony (Presumed Self-Portrait) Remedios Varo 1956, 75×92.7 cm
“Surrealism became for Remedios Varo a means of understanding the universe, a mechanism by which it broke out of scientific principles and linear logic. Her works, which intertwine the world of dreams and psychedelic “ancestral memory”, are imbued with intuitive solutions and intellectual curiosity. Basics of mechanics and architecture, attention to the smallest details, a passion for alchemy and occultism, philosophical reflections and dreams – all this is in the personal world of Varo, mysterious and fantastic”.
“Harmony (Possible Self-Portrait), created in 1956, is a canonical example of Varo’s complex visual vocabulary. Here, her “animistic belief in the power of objects and in the interrelationship between plant, animal, human and mechanical worlds” is poetically manifest. The artist, who had knowledge of craft and technique, pays extremely much attention to detail – each stroke has a clear purpose. In fact, Varo’s paintings are built from details. The imitation of the principles of scientific illustration and the technical precision of “Harmony” is reminiscent of the drawings she made during her scientific expedition to the Orinoco River in Venezuela ten years earlier.
The mystical scene by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a world record
Fragments of “Harmony” by Remedios Varo
The mystical scene by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a world record
Fragments of “Harmony” by Remedios Varo
The mystical scene by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a world record
Fragments of “Harmony” by Remedios Varo
The mystical scene by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a world record
Fragments of “Harmony” by Remedios Varo

Moreover, Varo’s technical skill leaves an inexplicable feeling in her work. “Although we often see everything [on them], we can’t help feeling that we’re missing an important key that would clearly show us the meaning,” wrote art historian Whitney Chadwick. And biographer Janet Kaplan points to how skillfully Varo quoted historical and literary sources in Harmony. In particular, she compares this painting to the Renaissance panel “St. Jerome in his cell” by Antonello da Messina.

“In each work, the secluded figure, absorbed by spiritual labor, is in the enclosed space of heavy walls, arched doorways and ceilings, lantern windows, and rich parquet floors. And in each [the author] has given meticulous attention to detail,” Kaplan notes. – In Varo and Antonello this attention comes from one source – the early style of encyclopedic descriptions in Flemish painting of the XV and XVI centuries”.

The mystical scene by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a world record
Antonello da Messina – St Jerome in his study – National Gallery London
Reflecting her own spiritual quests and autobiographical journeys, Varo was increasingly filling her picturesque universe with “the fantastic adventures of enlightenment, spiritual purification and order,” writes Janet Kaplan in her biography Remedios Varo. Unpredictable journeys”. In late works such as “To the Tower” (1960), which over the past six years was the most expensive work of the artist, these stories have become more allegorical and biographical.
The mystical scene by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a world record
Remedios Varo “Towards the tower” (1960)

In Varo’s Harmony, she draws on the structural principles of music, which served as an important symbol of organization in the creation of her pictorial stories. “Music [for Varo] is a deliberately structured structure, and so it acts as an agent in organizing life in several works,” writes art historian Alan Friedman.

Meditative, peaceful energy surrounds a lonely figure (Varo himself), while around her a strange, supernatural chaos occurs: floorboards open and release ghostly sheets of paper, boxes and chest open, opening strange natural ephemerals, birds try to fly away, but fall into the trap of optical illusions, from the walls appear ghostly creatures. “Although there is confusion in this monastic cell, we feel that the advent of harmonious order here is only a matter of time,” said Whitney Chadwick.

The mystical scene by Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo set a world record

MICROCOSMOS (DETERMINISMO) (1959) By Remedios Varo
One evening with “Harmony” Sotheby’s sold and another painting Remedios Varo – “Microcosm”, created in 1959. For her it was supposed to gain from a half to two million dollars, but the final price exceeded 1.8 million. “Microcosmos” took the third line in the list of the most expensive works of the artist.

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