Joan Miró

The Spanish painter Joan Miró (1893-1983), one of the first surrealists, developed a highly personalized pictorial language derived from prehistoric and naive sources.

Joan Miró was born on April 20, 1893, in Montroig near Barcelona. At the age of 8 he was drawing regularly. His sketchbooks of 1905 contain nature studies from Tarragona and Palma de Majorca. He attended the Lonja School of Fine Arts (1907-1909) and the Gali School of Art (1912-1915) in Barcelona, after which he produced portraits and landscapes in the Fauve manner. He had his first one-man show in Barcelona in 1918. That year he became a member of the Agrupacio Courbet, to which the ceramist Joseph Llorenz Artigas belonged.

In 1919 Miró made his first trip to Paris, and thereafter he spent the winters in Paris and the summers in Montroig. He met members of the Dada group and took part in Dada activities. His first one-man show in Paris was held in 1921. His paintings of this period reflect cubist influences; Montroig (The Olive Grove; 1919), for example, has a frontal, geometric pattern derived from cubism.

The Tilled Field (1923-1924) marked the turning point in Miró's art toward a personal style. In the midst of a rustic landscape with animals and delicately drawn objects are a large ear and eye; thus the person of the painter comes into the picture. The change in his art was furthered by his encounter with the works of Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Jean Arp.

Miró's aim was to rediscover the sources of human feeling, to create poetry by way of painting, using a vocabulary of signs and symbols, plastic metaphors, and dream images to express definite themes. He had a genuine sense of humor and a lively wit, which also characterized his art. His chief consideration was social, to get close to the great masses of humanity. He was deeply convinced that the art of our age can make a genuine appeal only when returning to the roots of experience. In this respect his attitude can be compared to that of Klee.

Miró was connected with the surrealists from 1924 to 1930. Surrealism was a source of inspiration to him, and he made use of its methods; however, he never accepted any surrealist "doctrine." Rather, his art, like Klee's, belongs to modern fantastic art. Under the impact of surrealism Miró painted the Harlequin's Carnival (1924-1925) with its frantic movement of semiabstract forms. In 1926 he collaborated with Max Ernst on the sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's ballet Roméo et Juliette.

In 1928 Miró visited the Netherlands; inspired by the Dutch masters, he executed the series of "Dutch Interiors." In his Dutch Interior II (1928) objects are endowed with a fantastic animation and personality and float in ambiguous space. In 1928-1929 he made his first collages and papiers collés (pasted papers). He married in 1929, and his daughter, Dolores, was born in 1931. Important exhibitions of Miró's work took place in Paris in 1928, 1930, 1931, and 1932 and in New York in 1932. He designed the scenery and costumes for Léonide Massine's ballet Jeux d'enfants in 1932.

In 1936 Miró fled the Civil War in Spain and lived in Paris. The following year he executed a large mural, the Reaper, for the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exposition in Paris. He settled in Palma de Majorca in 1940. The series of gouaches entitled "Constellations" (1940-1941) are full of delicate beauty and gaiety. In 1944 he produced his first ceramics with Artigas's assistance and also executed a series of paintings on irregular pieces of canvas. The following year Miró painted a number of large compositions. His work achieved great power through increased simplicity, intensified color, and abstraction, as in the Bullfight (1945), Woman and Bird in Moonlight (1949), and Painting (1953). He was awarded the Grand Prix International at the Venice Biennale for his graphic work.

Miró's most famous monumental works are the two ceramic walls (1957-1959), Night and Day, for the UNESCO building in Paris, executed with Artigas; the mural painting (1950) and the ceramic mural (1960) for Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the ceramic mural (1967) for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. In 1975 Miró demonstrated his devotion to his native country with the donation of the Miró Foundation to the city of Barcelona. The building, which houses his works and the exhibitions of other artists, was designed by the artist's great friend, Josep Lluis Sert. One exhibition room was dedicated to the showing of works by young artists who had not yet been discovered by the public. Miró died in 1983 at the age of 90.

Miró enjoyed international acclaim during his long and innovative career. He was one of the many outstanding Spaniards—including Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Salvador Dali, Julio González, and Francis Picabia—who, by belonging to the School of Paris, helped to establish the high esteem in which it was held during the first half of the 20th century. And like many of those other artists, Miró continued to energetically produce his art and to experiment with form and subject long after the years of his initial celebrity had passed.


Further Reading on Joan Miró

The most comprehensive study of Miró is Jacques Dupin, Miró (trans. 1962), which contains a classified catalog and bibliography. The first monograph on the artist was written by James Johnson Sweeney, Joan Miró (1941). See also Rosa Maria Malet's Joan Miró (1983) and James Thrall Soby's Joan Miró (1980). Other monographs are Clement Greenberg, Joan Miró (1948), and Sam Hunter, Joan Miró: His Graphic Work (1958). In addition, there are numerous Internet web sites devoted in whole or in part to Miró and his works.