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April 05, 2024

Acquisition: Remedios Varo

Remedios Varo, "Banqueros en acción (Bankers in Action)"

Remedios Varo
Banqueros en acción (Bankers in Action), 1962
oil on fiberboard
overall: 60.96 x 69.85 cm (24 x 27 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Funds from Margot Kelly

Remedios Varo (1908–1963) is one of the most important surrealists in the history of the movement and a major 20th-century artist in Mexico. She is celebrated for her paintings that combine ideas of the occult, mysticism, psychoanalysis, astrology, esotericism, and science. Her images blend nature with the built environment and feature characters and open-ended narratives that reflect her life and times. The National Gallery of Art has acquired our first two works by Varo: the painting Banqueros en acción (Bankers in Action) (1962) and a preparatory drawing of the same scene, which reveals her precise working methods. The painting will be on view in gallery 415B on the Upper Level of the East Building beginning April 11, 2024.

Likely inspired by Agatha Christie’s “The Million Dollar Bond Robbery,” Banqueros en acción was created during the productive final years of Varo’s life. The work depicts a woman crouching behind a wall watching a group of men pass by. Wearing top hats and billowing frock coats that look like bat wings, these men, one of whom stares directly out at the viewer, fly through an outdoor corridor. The scene takes place against an anxious red sky filled with a dense forest of trees.

Born to a traditional, middle-class family in Girona, Spain, Varo’s family later moved to Madrid, where she studied drawing at the Academia de San Fernando. She moved with her first husband to Paris and later to Barcelona. During the 1930s she collaborated and exhibited with many leading surrealists, including André Breton, Esteban Francés, René Magritte, Wolfgang Paalen, and Benjamin Péret. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi occupation of Paris, she and many other many artists fled Europe and found refuge in the Americas. Varo settled in Mexico City, where she was part of a robust intellectual community that included Leonora Carrington, Kati Horna, and Alice Rahon. By the 1950s Varo had created her own visual style outside of Parisian surrealism. During this period Varo also absorbed the work of Russian mystics P. D. Ouspensky and George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, who explored ideas of the fourth dimension and its ties to the supernatural.

Banqueros en acción reveals Varo’s bold imagination and multidisciplinary study. Her interest in bankers may be specifically tied to her Mexican context. The 1960s was a period of economic stability and growth in Mexico. She may have intended the bankers to be symbols of authority or social conformity, which the female character appears to avoid. Like many of her late works, Banqueros has an assertive, protofeminist charge and carry echoes of her own experience of migration and exile.

At the National Gallery, Varo’s works join those of other important European surrealists, such as Giorgio De Chirico, Yves Tanguy, and Max Ernst, as well as American artists like Joseph Cornell and Betye Saar, who were shaped by the movement.

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