Five Female Surrealists You Should Know

When you hear the word Surrealism, you probably picture Salvador Dalí and his melting clocks or René Magritte and his pipe. However-although most of the most famous Surrealists were men-there is a rich history of female Surrealists that is often ignored by art education.

Surrealist art seeks to bring the invisible things in life- thoughts, ideas, the human psyche- to the surface, expressing the spiritual and emotional worlds. So, today, I want to bring attention to some of my favorite female Surrealists and the weird and wonderful worlds they created through their painting.

Bridget Bate Tichenor — Bridget Bate Tichenor came to art late in life. She spent most of her adult life as a model, fashion editor, and socialite in Paris and New York City. However, in the1950s she abandoned this life in order to seek spiritual fulfillment in Mexico, where she spent the rest of her life. While living there, Bate Tichenor began to create Surrealist paintings. She produced an oeuvre of fantastical paintings that were characterized by rounded landscapes populated by strange figures with pale faces and large eyes. Today, she is known not only for her innovative Surrealist style but for reviving the Renaissance technique of egg tempera painting.

Leonora Carrington — To say that Leonora Carrington lived an interesting life is an understatement. Carrington was originally from Britain, but she began her artistic career in Parish, while she was living with her lover Max Ernst, one of the most prominent Surrealists at that time. When World War II broke out, she traveled to Spain, where her family members forced her to be institutionalized. Fortunately, Carrington was able to escape and flee to Mexico, where she lived for the rest of her life. In Mexico, Carrington found true artistic inspiration. The paintings she produced in Mexico are fantastic; they recall the outright weirdness of Hieronymus Bosch, mixed with a dash of fairy tale fantasticism and the strange magic of mythology.

Remedios Varo — There are few painters more imaginative than Remedios Varo. Born in Spain, Varo was forced to flee after the outbreak of World War II. She ended up in Mexico and never looked back. Varo has a very particular brand of Surrealism; her work is whimsical and everything she paints seems to have come out of a dream. Today, she is well-known for these strange, otherworldly paintings that are populated by a world of mysterious figures engaged in bizarre, ritualistic acts.

Dorothea Tanning — American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning had an approach to art that was singular, even by Surrealist standards. Like many artists of her cohort, Tanning lived an incredible life. She lived to the age of 101, living through both World Wars and a number of other world-changing events. Tanning continued to create art until the end of her life, producing paintings, sculptures, and writings, including poetry. Tanning first rose to prominence in 1943 when she participated in the famous Exhibition by 31 Women at the Art of This Century gallery in New York. However, these days she is known as one of the most prominent American Surrealists, and you can find her art at the finest museums around the country.

Alice Rahon — Nothing screams surreal like an Alice Rahon painting. Rahon was born in France; she first encountered Surrealism when she moved to Paris and met the Surrealist painter Wolfgang Paalen, whom she later married. Rahon began writing Surrealist poetry at this time, but she didn’t start painting until Paalen and Rahon traveled to Mexico, where they became friends with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Rahon spent the rest of her life in Mexico, producing art and writing. Her painting is full of color and flowing lines. Her art has the feel of a dreamscape, an adventure through the psyche.

Originally published at on October 1, 2020.



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