Miró, Joan (1893–1983)

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MIRÓ, JOAN (1893–1983)


Spanish painter, sculptor, and printmaker.

Joan Miró was born in Barcelona. Following secondary school, his father insisted that he attend business school apart from his art studies at La Escuela de la Lonja, where Modest Urgell was one of his teachers. In 1910–1911 his family purchased a farm in Montroig (Tarragona), which became one of his most important studios. In 1911 he fell ill with typhoid fever and recovered there. From 1912 to 1915 he studied with the innovative art instructor Francesc D'Assi GalíFabra. In 1916 he met the dealer Josep Dalmau, who in February 1918 presented Miró's first solo exhibition in Barcelona.


In early March 1920 Miró moved to Paris, where he met Pablo Picasso. He planned his first Paris exhibition with the help of Dalmau, scheduled for the next season. In June he returned to Spain, but in the autumn was represented with two paintings—Self-Portrait and Montroig, Village and Church—in a Paris group exhibition of Catalan artists in the Salon d'Automne.

In January 1921 he again traveled to Paris and in late February again met Picasso. The following month he worked in the studio of the Catalan sculptor Pablo Gargallo at 45 rue Blomet. Through March he painted new canvases and, with Dalmau, planned the opening of the exhibition. Miró now met several important writers—Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, and Tristan Tzara. Also in March he possibly met André Masson and discovered that the two artists' studios at 45 rue Blomet were adjacent. On 29 April his first solo show opened at the Galerie La Licorne, with a catalog preface by Maurice Raynal situating him as the heir of Cézanne and Picasso. In June he again returned to Barcelona, remaining there for the rest of the year and beginning his most ambitious painting to date, The Farm. In early May 1922, again working at 45 rue Blomet, he finished The Farm, which was consigned to the art dealer Léonce Rosenberg and presented in the Salon d'Automne (1 November–17 December).

Through Masson, Miró met the writer and future ethnographer Michel Leiris in March 1923 and possibly also Antonin Artaud, Robert Desnos, Jean Dubuffet, Paul Éluard, Marcel Jouhandeau, Georges Limbour, Raymond Queneau, and Armand Salacrou. His painting The Farm was again exhibited at the Caméleon in boulevard Montparnasse in May before he returned to Spain in June. In July he began working on important transitional paintings that announced his move toward surrealism: The Tilled Field, The Hunter, and Pastorale (all July 1923–winter 1924).

Though André Breton had seen Masson's solo exhibition at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's Galerie Simon in early 1924, the poet and painter would not meet until late September. Miró probably did not meet Breton until the following year, but Miró was already immersed in surrealist ideas. Evidence of this interest is his letter (10 August 1924) to Leiris: "I have done a series of small things on wood, in which I take off with some form in the wood.… I agree with Breton that there is some thing extremely disturbing about a page of writing" (Rowell, p. 86). Shortly after meeting Miróin early 1925, Breton purchased The Hunter and The Gentleman. Miró's June solo exhibition at the Galerie Pierre presented works in the surrealist idiom. By the autumn Miró's works appeared in the Galerie Pierre's group exhibition of surrealist painting. Breton's book Le surréalisme et la peinture (1928) represented Miró as one of the artists in the group.

Jacques Dupin has called Miró's works of the years 1925–1927 "dream paintings." The most famous and important of these is the 1925 Birth ofthe World, where highly schematic and transparent figures are set against a painterly field. These were complemented by landscapes, Dutch interiors, and imaginary portraits (1926–1929). Prompted by his success, Miró rejected the danger of facile repetition and proclaimed: "I want to assassinate painting." His works of the period 1928–1931 consisted of collages made out of deliberately crude materials (1928–1929), "anti-paintings" where he made an image and canceled it out (1930), and "object assemblages" made up of found objects and detritus (1931). These works reveal a sense of artistic crisis and capture the wider sense of cultural, economic, and political crisis that characterized the period.


While Miró continued making collages and paintings in the early 1930s (especially 1933–1934), many of the canvases from 1934 onward are grotesquely distorted. Following Hitler's rise to power in 1933, in October 1934 a failed revolution in Miró's native Barcelona and in Asturias was brutally put down by the Spanish military, using the Moroccan army. This event was a prelude to the Spanish civil war. Things were no better in Paris, for on 6 February 1934 right-wing militants attempted to storm the French Assembly. The riot was only put down when the authorities fired on the crowd; within days there was a general strike (supported by the surrealists) and the government collapsed. Miró's unsettling 1930s "savage paintings" engage with the political crisis.

The city of Guernica in the Basque homeland was cynically destroyed in April 1937 when the German Condor Legion dropped incendiary bombs on it with General Francisco Franco's complicity. The bombings created a new sense of urgency on the part of the Republican government to seek international support, especially in the face of the nonaggression pact signed by France and England. The pact effectively isolated Spain from the matériel necessary to conduct the war, while Germany and Italy's support of the military rebellion was ignored by the international community. Plans were in preparation for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World's Fair, and the bombings introduced a new urgency. Miró's contribution was a large mural called The Reaper (Catalan Peasant in Revolt). This now lost work was clearly a powerful political and artistic statement of identification with the Republic. Further, Miró made the stencil Aidez l'Espagne (Help Spain) with the intention of selling it as a stamp to raise money for the Republic.

The Spanish civil war was a prelude to World War II. In 1939, after the beginning of the world war, Miró fled from Paris to Varengeville, in Normandy, where he began a series of twenty-three gouaches known as the Constellations in January 1940. Following the German invasion of France in May 1940, Miró decided to go with his wife and daughter to Mallorca. En route, pausing in Perpignan, he continued working on the series of gouaches. The series was continued in Mallorca and completed in Montroig in September 1941. Executed during the darkest year of the war, when the outcome was by no means clear, this series condensed the artist's sense of spiritual resistance and humankind's capacity to triumph over adversity even in the face of insurmountable odds. When the Constellations were shown in New York in early 1945, they demonstrated that the Nazi assault had not extinguished culture in Europe.


Miró declined to participate in the first Bienal Hispano-Americana de Arte (Madrid, 1951), an exhibition officially sanctioned by the Franco government. Miró's postwar years amounted to a form of internal exile within Franco's dictatorship (1 April 1939–20 November 1975). But Miró exhibited frequently in Paris and New York, thus avoiding the censorship that otherwise applied to works of art or literature in Spain.

Miró undertook numerous public commissions abroad. In 1947 he spent several months in New York, working in the studio of Carl Holty, where he prepared a large mural commission for the Cincinnati Terrace Plaza Hotel. MiróandJosepLloréns Artigas's monumental ceramic works included commissions for UNESCO (1958), Harvard (1960), the Guggenheim (1967), Osaka (1970), and the Kunsthaus Zürich (1971–1972). In 1958 he began working on an ambitious commission to make the elaborate gardens for Aimé Maeght's foundation in Saint Paul de Vence. This project created an environment through the use of a variety of sculptural media; in this period Miró began intensively engaging with sculpture.


During the 1960s Miró returned to painting, incorporating abstract expressionist and informel painting. The greater spontaneity of his methodology expressed solidarity with younger artists. His painted sculptures incorporated ideas from pop art. His 1968 retrospective, organized in France, was additionally presented in Barcelona (November 1968–January 1969), his only exhibition held in Spain during the dictatorship. Miró was concerned that such a retrospective would reduce his work to official culture. In a subversive action, working all night long, Miró worked with a team of architecture students to make a clandestine and ephemeral mural, called "Miró otro" (May 1969), executed on the glass windows of Col.legi de Architectes de Barcelona.

For his retrospective for the Grand Palais (Paris, May 1974), Miró executed a substantial body of work to assert the continued contemporary vitality of his art and aggressively to resist political oppression. Miró again rejected conventional painting and took up antiart. Among the foundobject sculptures cast in bronze, tapestries, and ceramics, there was a striking series of burned canvases, where the center of the canvas was a void. One of the gestural paintings rendered the marks as the traces of an act of pictorial rebellion commensurate with the events in Paris: it was titled May 1968 (1973).

Miró continued to make powerful paintings through the late 1970s. In 1976 he donated the majority of his drawings to the recently opened Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. For the first time, the little-known preparatory drawings, which underpinned most of his work, were published. His 1978–1979 retrospective, and donation of drawings, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris further made his drawings available. Miró continued working through the beginning of the 1980s on numerous projects, many now conserved in the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró on Mallorca. His activity during the year 1983 was curtailed by ill health. On Christmas day of that year he died at age ninety.

See alsoPicasso, Pablo; Spain; Surrealism; Tzara, Tristan.


Cabañas Bravo, Miguel. Política artística del franquismo. Madrid, 1996.

Dupin, Jacques. Joan Miró: Life and Work. New York, 1962.

Fitzsimmons, James. Introduction to Miró: "Peintures sauvages" 1934 to 1953, by Joan Miró. New York, 1958.

Jeffett, William. "Antitête: The Book as Object in the Collaboration of Tristan Tzara and Joan Miró (1946–47)." Burlington Magazine, 135, no. 1079 (February 1993): 81–92.

——. "The Shape of Color: Joan Miró's Painted Sculpture, Monumentality, Metaphor." In The Shape of Color: Joan Miró's Painted Sculpture, by Laura Coyle, William Jeffett, and Joan Punyet-Miró, 21–65. Washington, D.C., 2002.

——. "Miró's Unhappy Consciousness: Relief-Sculptures and Objects, 1930–1932." In Joan Miró, edited by Agnès de la Baumelle, 81–93. Paris and London, 2004.

Leymarie, Jean, and Jacques Dupin. Joan Miró. Paris, 1974.

Lubar, Robert S. "Paintings and Politics: Miró's Still Life with Shoe and the Spanish Republic." In Surrealism, Politics, and Culture, edited by Raymond Spiteri and Donald LaCoss, 127–161. Aldershot, U.K., 2003.

Malet, Rosa Maria, ed. Obra de Miró. Barcelona, 1979.

Raynal, Maurice. "Preface to the 1921 Miró Exhibition at the Galerie La Licorne, Paris." In Miró: Biographical and Critical Study by Jacques Lassaigne, 118–120. Geneva, 1963.

Rowell, Margit, ed. Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews. Translated by Paul Auster and Patricia Mathews. Boston, 1986.

Umland, Anne. "Chronology." In Joan Miró, by Carolyn Lanchner, 317–361. New York, 1993.

William Jeffett