The Book

Varda Cover.jpg

Jean Varda was a legendary iconoclast in the 20th century art world. Acclaimed in Europe for his “Byzantine-Cubist mosaics,” fashioned from broken glass, mirrors, and crockery, and later, after he moved to the United States, for his colorful collages, he was equally acknowledged as a teacher, a raconteur, and a man of infinite charm and wit. Yet by the time of his death in 1971, Varda was known primarily as an outlandish character who surrounded himself with very young women and lived and partied on a wreck of an old ferryboat in Sausalito, near San Francisco. Almost half a century later, he has been all but forgotten.

With this first full-length biography of Jean Varda, Elizabeth Leavy Stroman has vividly brought this piece of hidden history back to light. Stroman takes the reader from Varda’s birthplace in the ancient Ottoman Empire to France and England, where he consorted with Braque, Picasso, Matisse, and writers like Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley, and Dylan Thomas. Then she recounts his days in California, where his friends included Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Maya Angelou, and Alan Watts and he presided over a raucous, often libertine sub-culture of artists and hangers-on who scandalized mainstream society with their antics.

UPDATE: Copies of The Art and Life of Jean Varda are now available for purchase.


Preview the Book


Wednesday, February 10, 2016. Noon, Sausalito City Hall, 420 Litho Street, Edgewater Room. Author talk and slide presentation. Sponsored by Sausalito Village.  Free and open to all


Friday, March 18, 2016. 7:00 P.M.  The Beat Museum, 540  Broadway, San Francisco. San Francisco writer Herb Gold, will reminisce about his friendship with Varda. Check back on this website for further information about this special event.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016. 7:30 P.M. Belvedere-Tiburon Library, 1501 Tiburon Blvd., Tiburon. Author talk and slide presentation.



 Reviews and press




"The Art and Life of Jean Varda makes clear that Varda, better known today as an outlandish character than as a serious artist, was in fact both. Stroman cuts through the myths that Varda created about himself, while celebrating them at the same time. A lively book, deeply researched, well illustrated."

— David Weinstein, CA-Modern Magazine | Eichler Network

I didn’t really know a lot about Varda before reading this book, but I was familiar with his artwork. This book is very comprehensive and describes Varda’s life in interesting detail. The biggest thing that stuck out to me was the layout of the book. While it generally reads from birth to death in a chronological order, you get articles and interviews throughout. And the artwork is gorgeous as always. . . . The design is perfect for a coffee table book.
Great book for the art lover or color lover.”

Rated 5 stars
— Review from a Goodreads reviewer

 Stroman successfully captures the Bohemian spirit and ultimately charming character of this complicated man in The Art and Life of Jean Varda, published by Purple Cottage Press. Organized chronologically as an illustrated biography, the book is a delight to read and beautiful, too, well served by its extreme-horizontal format (it’s 14 inches wide but just 8 inches tall) and often collage-like layouts, which echo one of the artist’s signature techniques.

Wink books --

New! Check this out

Lib at Large: Writer pens bio of legendary Sausalito artist Jean Varda

 Paul Liberatore, a reporter at the Marin Independent Journal, has written a great article about Varda and the book:


Comments about Varda


"Yanko Varda allowed me to enter a world strange and fanciful. Although I had to cope daily with real and mundane matters, I found that some of the magic of his world stayed around my shoulders."

— Maya Angelou, Singin and Swingin and Getting Merry Like Christmas

"Varda was a visionary who saw the entire universe as a manifestation of light."

— Alan Watts, In my Own Way

"In every new collage he produces he give us a fresh view of life’s playground taken from the angle of eternity. He never moves straight forward; his advances are always in the form of spiritual pirouettes.

"The restraint and sobriety of his approach explains the exuberant gayety of its compositions wherein a gleam becomes a glance and a glance a gleam."

— Henry Miller, an Unpublished Appreciation of Varda, written in the 1950s

"Varda delivers us from the stranglehold of realism, the lack of passion and wit of other painters. He fulfills the main role of the artist which is to transform ugliness into beauty."

— Anais Nin, Collages

"Jean Varda, an eloquent, quick-witted cosmopolitan whose conversations are as famous in New York, London, and Paris as they are in San Francisco, exhorted his students to believe in painting as a self-sufficient way of life rather than as a tool. Varda would say, ‘Painting’ is a philosophical instrument of life... a painting has a cosmic reason for being; its creation is the result of the ecstatic moment at the peak of clarity of vision.’ "

— Dore Ashton, An Eastern View of the San Francisco School (San Francisco Stories)

"To the black and white keys of a typewriter, Jean Varda is a problem. How to portray a man who drives a two-toned pink car, sails a red, green, purple and chartreuse boat, paints pictures on the ‘chlorophylia of women’?

"Because Varda is all of this, an artist, and in a way a myth; but much more than this. The flamboyancy and the buoyancy just a part of a rare and generous human being."

— Judy Stone (journalist), Marin Independent Journal

"Jean Varda was the bohemian charmer-in-chief of the twentieth century."

       — Herbert Gold, author of Bohemia and Still Alive: A Temporary Condition

"Yanko Varda was indeed the great light of my life in the thirties."

— Julian Trevelyan, unpublished letter to Virginia Varda Goldstein

"Varda’s views on painting, centering on his great admiration of Picasso, were of fundamental importance to the development of my ideas and my work."

— Roland Penrose - Scrapbook



About the Author


Elizabeth Leavy Stroman is the author of A Place of Innocent Recreations: History of the Sausalito Library. She has been an editor and writer for the Sausalito Historical Society and writes occasional articles for The Marin Scope. A past president of the Sausalito Library Board and a retired attorney, she lives with her husband in Sausalito, California.

Stroman in front of the now very much cleaned up  S.S. Vallejo , the converted ferryboat where Jean Varda lived in Sausalito  Courtesy Marin Independent Journal

Stroman in front of the now very much cleaned up S.S. Vallejo, the converted ferryboat where Jean Varda lived in Sausalito

Courtesy Marin Independent Journal



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Purple Cottage Press, 49 Lower Crescent Avenue, Sausalito CA 94965,

If you would prefer to purchase the book through Book Passage you can do so by clicking here.