In this work, two classically modeled nude women occupy a landscape drawn from the subconscious: a cloud of smoke produced from a burning head, set against a dying tree and a theatrical, draped curtain.

Federico Castellón

American, 1914-1971

Veronica’s Veil, 1937

Oil on canvas

18 x 13 inches

Signed lower right; inscribed and signed on the verso

Federico Castellón was a gifted painter, printmaker, and illustrator whose early works are among the most evocative American Surrealist paintings of their time. Born to a large family in Almeria, Spain in 1914, Castellón discovered his talent for sketching at an early age. When the family moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1921, they were among the few Spanish-speaking people in their neighborhood. Castellón often felt ostracized by his peers and embraced drawing and sketching as a means of self-expression.

In the early 1930s, Castellón met Mexican muralist Diego Rivera at a lecture series while he was in New York completing the Rockefeller Center murals. Castellón shared his work with Rivera, who was so impressed that he brought it to the director of Weyhe Gallery. Castellón received his first solo exhibition here, at just eighteen years old.

In 1937, Castellón painted the present work, Veronica’s Veil. The title and imagery refers to the Christian relic of a piece of cloth that bears the likeness of Christ’s face. The religious subject was frequently painted by Renaissance artists, and Castellón reimagined the story with vivid and frightening imagery. Two classically modeled nude women occupy a landscape drawn from the subconscious: a cloud of smoke produced from a burning head, set against a dying tree and a theatrical, draped curtain. Like the story of the relic, the mysterious woman’s face appears on a veil hung on the dying tree. The theme of death and destruction is reiterated by the figure in blue, a personification of death, that lures the headless woman. In fact, Castellón used the head as a recurring theme in his work.

In this work, two classically modeled nude women occupy a landscape drawn from the subconscious: a cloud of smoke produced from a burning head, set against a dying tree and a theatrical, draped curtain.