Lot 20
  • 20

Remedios Varo (1908-1963)

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Remedios Varo
  • The Troubadour (El Trovador) 
  • signed lower right
  • oil on masonite
  • 14 1/2 by 9 in.
  • 37 by 23 cm
  • Painted in 1959.


The Collection of Guillermo Hurtado, Mexico City
The Collection of Henry Willard Lende, Jr., Austin, Texas


Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, Palacio de Bellas Artes, La obra de Remedios Varo, August 3, 1964, no. 78
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno, Obra de Remedios Varo: 1913/1963, October-November, 1971, no. 53, illustrated in color


Justino Fernández, Catálogos de las exposiciones de arte, Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico, 1965, p. 104, illustrated
Roger Caillois, Octavio Paz, et al., Remedios Varo, Mexico City, 1966, no. 28, illustrated in color 
Justino Fernández, Catálogos de las exposiciones de arte, Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico, 1972, p. 120-123, discussed
Gonzalo Celorio, El surrealismo y lo real-maravilloso americano, Mexico City, 1976, p. 35, discussed
Edouard Jaguer, Remedios Varo, Paris, 1980, p. 16-18, illustrated in color
Janet A. Kaplan, Unexpected Journeys: The Art and Life of Remedios Varo, New York, 1988, p. 192, illustrated in color 
Lourdes Andrade, Remedios Varo y la alquimia, Mexico City, 1990, p. 29, discussed
Beatriz Varo, Remedios Varo: en el centro del microcosmos, Madrid, 1990, p. 183, illustrated in color 
Mary Caws, et al., Surrealism & Women, Cambridge, 1991, p. 171, discussed
Ricardo Ovalle, Walter Gruen, et al., Remedios Varo: Catálogo Razonado, Cuartera Edición, Mexico City, 2008, no. 251, p. 231, illustrated in color
Alberto Ruy Sánchez, et al., Cinco Llaves del Mundo Secreto de Remedios Varo, Mexico City, 2008, p. 125, illustrated in color 


This work is in perfect condition. The paint layer is clean. The fine panel is flat. The corners are unbroken. The paint layer is undamaged. There are no retouches visible either under ultraviolet light or to the naked eye. All of the fine detail is perfectly preserved. The work should be hung as is. (This condition report has been provided courtesy of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.)
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The remarkable creativity evidenced in the work of Remedios Varo stand as some of the most significant contributions to the story of Surrealism.  The complex matrix of influences that serve as the foundational architecture and iconography for her paintings—from medieval history and Greek mythology to scientific reason and alchemy, nature, music, and pagan practices—is uniquely her own.  While Varo’s reality is abundant with fantasia, she presents her pictorial universe with a scientific sensibility: a methodical explanation of the mystical.

Executed in 1959, The Troubadour (El Trovador), is a canonical example of Varo’s complex visual lexicon. Her “animistic faith in the power of objects and in the interrelatedness of plant, animal, human, and mechanical worlds“ is hereby  poetically displayed. The result is a visual tale of Homeric-like intricacy. [1] Almost a decade prior to painting this work, Varo travelled with her then new lover and companion, the French pilot Jean Nicolle, and a team of scientists to the Orinoco River in Venezuela.  To finance this trip, Varo took a job with the Department of Public Health “for which she made drawings of microscopic enlargements” of insects. [2] Eventually becoming anxious to return to Mexico, her adoptive home country, she found herself with no money for the return voyage and decided to search for gold in the Orinoco River.  Varo would eventually draw upon this pivotal adventure as a rich source of inspiration and visual imagry. Just as in Exploración de la fuentes del Río Orinoco, painted in same year of 1959, The Troubadour shares the persistent idea of the voyager in transit along a seemingly endless, labyrinthal river.

In this version, Varo situates a troubadour within a fantastic, siren-esque boat surrounded by an incredible natural life force of dense forest and swarming birds—echoing not only the epic length of the Orinoco River itself, one of the largest river systems in the world, but also its rich wildlife; home to over one thousand species of birds.  An artist who was conscious of craft and technique, there is a compulsive attention to conspicuous detail visible here as it is throughout her oeuvre; each brushstroke transmitting a clear purpose. In essence, Varo’s paintings are an exercise of technical prowess, executed with such microscopic detail they resemble the exactness of the scientific illustrations she produced while in Venezuela.

Music served as a significant symbol of organization in modeling her pictorial stories; “ music [for Varo] is a deliberately patterned construction, and so [it] appears as an agent for organizing life in several of [her] images of creation.” [3] Here, she situates two classic representations of music, the troubadour and the siren, to build her universe.  A heralded and noble figure from the 11th through 13th Centuries, the troubadour was a traveling lyrical musician whose poetic songs would diseminate news and tales from far-a-way lands.  Just as in traditional medieval representations of the troubadour playing a lute, we find Varo’s version suggesting the musical instrument with the fine, golden hair of the siren. Often times represented as dangerously alluring creatures of the ocean, sirens where also depicted in early Greek and Byzantine art as bird-like creatures. Additionally implied is the Greek myth of Orpheus. Taught to play the lyre by Apollo, Orpheus’ skill was so exceptional and his singing voice so sweet, he would charm wild animals out of the depths of the forest and trees would uproot themselves in order to follow him. Orpheus’ ability to enchant was so powerful, he was taken by Jason and the Argonauts on their quest after the Golden Fleece in order to save them from the tempting songs of the sirens. As in other mature paintings, The Troubadour invokes the powerful association between female creation and the mysteries of the natural world, a theme commonly appropriated amongst Varo’s female Surrealists counterparts:  Méret Oppenheim, Jacqueline Lamba, Alice Rahon, Leonora Carrington, and others. Deep in the mysterious, unending forest, the troubadour finds himself surrounded by female earth:  the comforting siren, the dryad (the female tree nymph from Greek mythology) unveiling herself with song, the almost life-sized birds peering at the lonely voyager. The quest of the troubadour suddenly becomes a journey of mystical revelation and spiritual awe.


[1] Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, New York, 1985, p. 202
[2] Ibid, p. 177
[3] Alan Friedman, “The Serenity of Science”, Remedios Varo: Catálogo Razonado, Cuartera Edición, Mexico City, 2008, pp. 83-84


Remedios Varo’s The Troubadour (1959) comes to Sotheby’s from The Estate of Henry Willard Lende, Jr.  Known for his brilliant and inquisitive mind, his gracious manner and adventurous spirit, Henry Willard Lende was a “gentleman’s gentleman.” An engineer, philanthropist and land steward, he was fascinated by the natural world, a life-long passion made manifest in the most tangible part of his legacy: the 644-acre natural habitat laboratory known as the Cibolo Preserve. 

Located just east of Boerne in Kendall County, Texas, the Cibolo Preserve is a unique cross-section of history and nature dedicated to research and education. Celebrated for its extraordinary natural beauty, variety of flora and fauna, and its geological and archaeological features, it serves as an active area of study for scientists from the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the San Antonio River Authority. 

As Chairman of the Cibolo Preserve board since its inception in 2008, Mr. Lende also established research partnerships with the neighboring Cibolo Nature Center & Farm, a community committed to protecting natural treasures through education and stewardship. 

The sale of Remedios Varo’s The Troubadour, an extraordinary painting filled with the awe and mysteries of the natural world, will serve to ensure the continuity of the Cibolo Preserve and in doing so, maintain Mr. Lende’s promise to this remarkable landscape.