Joan Miró i Ferrà (April 20, 1893 – December 25, 1983) was a Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramicist born in Barcelona.
Earning international acclaim, his work has been interpreted as Surrealism, a sandbox for the subconscious mind, a re-creation of the childlike, and a manifestation of Catalan pride. In numerous interviews dating from the 1930s onwards, Miró expressed contempt for conventional painting methods as a way of supporting bourgeois society, and famously declared an “assassination of painting” in favour of upsetting the visual elements of established painting.
Born to the families of a goldsmith and a cabinet-maker, he grew up in the lanes of the Barri Gòtic in Barcelona. He began drawing classes aged seven, at a private school at Carrer del Regomir 13, a medieval mansion, and in 1907 he enrolled at the fine art academy at La Llotja, in defiance of his father. He had his first solo show in 1918 at the Dalmau gallery – where his work was ridiculed and defaced. Inspired by Cubist and surrealist exhibitions from abroad the young Miró was drawn towards the arts community that was gathering in Montparnasse and in 1920 moved to Paris, but continuing to spend the summers in Catalonia.
Miró began his career as an accountant, abandoning the business world completely for art after suffering a nervous breakdown. His early art, like that of the similarly influenced Fauves and Cubists exhibited in Barcelona, was inspired by such painters as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, though the resemblance of Miró’s work to that of the intermediate generation of the avant-garde has led scholars to dub this period his Catalan Fauvist period.
A few years after Miró’s 1918 Barcelona solo exhibition, he settled in Paris, where he finished a number of paintings that he had begun on his parents’ farm in Mont-roig del Camp. One such painting, The Farm, showed a transition to a more individual style of painting and certain nationalistic qualities. Ernest Hemmingway, who later purchased the piece, compared the artistic accomplishment to James Joyce’s Ulysses. Miró annually returned to Mont-roig and developed a symbolism and nationalism that would stick with him throughout his career. Catalan Landscape (The Hunter) and the Tilled Field, two of Miró’s first works classified as Surrealist, employ the symbolic language that was to dominate the art of the next decade.
In 1924, Miró joined the Surrealist group. The already symbolic and poetic nature of Miró’s work, as well as the dualities and contradictions inherent to it, fit well within the context of dream-like automatism espoused by the group. Much of Miró’s work lost the cluttered chaotic lack of focus that had defined his work thus far, and he experimented with collage and the process of painting within his work so as to reject the framing that traditional painting provided. This antagonistic attitude towards painting manifested itself when Miró referred to his work in 1924 ambiguously as “x” in a letter to poet friend Michel Leiris. The paintings that came out of this period were eventually dubbed Miró’s dream paintings.
Miró did not, however, completely abandon subject matter. Despite the Surrealist automatic techniques that he employed extensively in the 1920s, sketches show that his work was often the result of a methodical process. Miró’s work also rarely dipped into non-objectivity, maintaining a symbolic if schematic language. This language was perhaps most prominent in the repeated Head of a Catalan Peasant series of 1924 to 1925.
In 1926, he collaborated with Max Ernst on designs for Sergei Diaghilev. With Miró’s help, Ernst pioneered the technique of grattage, in which he troweled pigment onto his canvases.
Miró returned to a more representational form of painting with The Dutch Interiors of 1928. Crafted after works by Hendrik Martenszoon Sorgh and Jan Steen seen as postcard reproductions, the paintings reveal the influence of a trip to Holland taken by the artist. These paintings share more in common with Tilled Field or Harlequin’s Carnival than with the minimalistic dream paintings produced just a few years earlier.
In 1931, Pierre Matisse opened an art gallery in New York City. The Pierre Matisse Gallery, (which existed until Matisse’s death in 1989) became an influential part of the Modern art movement in America. From the outset Matisse represented Joan Miró, introduced him to the United States for the first time, and exhibited his work in New York regularly.
Until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Miró habitually returned to Spain in the summers. Once the War began, he was unable to return home. Unlike many of his surrealist contemporaries, Miró had previously preferred to stay away from explicitly political commentary in his work. Though a sense of nationalism pervaded his earliest surreal landscapes and Head of a Catalan Peasant, it wasn’t until Spain’s Republican government commissioned him to paint the mural, The Reaper, for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exhibition that Miró’s work took on its politically charged meaning.
In 1939, with Germany’s invasion of France looming on the horizon, Miró relocated to Varengeville in Normandy, and on May 20th of the following year, as Germans invaded Paris, he narrowly fled to Spain (now controlled by Francisco Franco) for the duration of the Vichy Regime’s rule. In Varengeville, Palma, and Montroig, between 1940 and 1941, Miró created the twenty-three gauche series Constellations. Revolving around a heavenly symbolism, Constellations earned the artist praise from Breton, who seventeen years later wrote a series of poems named for Miro’s work taking the visual artist’s material as inspiration. Features of this work revealed a shifting focus to the subjects of women, birds, and the moon, which would dominate his iconography and titling for much of the rest of his career.
Shuzo Takiguchi published the first monograph on Miró in 1940. In 1948–49, although living in Barcelona, Miró made frequent visits to Paris to work on printing his techniques at the Mourlot Studios (lithographs) and at the Atelier Lacourière (engravings). A close relationship lasting forty years developed with the printer Fernand Mourlot and resulted in the production of over one thousand different lithographic editions.
In 1959, André Breton asked Miró to represent Spain in The Homage to Surrealism exhibition together with works by Enrique Tábara, Salvador Dalí, and Eugenio Granell. Miró created a series of sculptures and ceramics for the garden of the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, which was completed in 1964.
Throughout the 1960s, Miró was a featured artist in many salon shows assembled by Maeght that also included works by Marc Chagall, Giacometti, Brach, Cesar, Ubac, and Tal-Coat.
In 1974, Miró created a tapestry for the World Trade Center in New York City. He had initially refused to do a tapestry, then he learned the craft and produced several ones. His World Trade Center Tapestry was displayed for many years at World Trade Center building.
In 1981, Miró’s The Sun, the Moon and One Star — later renamed Miró’s Chicago — was unveiled. This large, mixed media sculpture is situated outdoors in the downtown Loop area of Chicago, across the street from another large public sculpture, the Chicago Picasso. Miró had created a bronze model of The Sun, the Moon and One Star in 1967. The model now resides in the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Miró received a doctorate honoris causa in 1979 from the University of Barcelona.
He died bedridden at his home in Palma (Majorca) on December 25, 1983.
His early modernist works included Portrait of Vincens Nubiola (1917), Siurana – the Path, Nord-Sud (1917) and Painting of Toledo. These works show the influence of Cézanne, and fill the canvas with a vibrant, colourful surface, and a more painterly treatment than the hard-edge style of most of his later works. In Nord-Sud, the literary newspaper of that name appears in the still life, a compositional device common in cubist compositions, but also a reference to the literary and avant-guarde interests of the painter.
From 1920 Miró developed a very precise style, picking out every element in isolation and detail, and arranging them in deliberate composition. These works, including House with Palm tree (1918), and Nude with a Mirror (1919) and The Table – Still Life with Rabbit (1920) show the clear influence of Cubism, although in a restrained way, being applied to only a proportion of the subject. For example, The Farmers Wife (1922-23), is quite realistic, but some are stylised or deformed, such as the treatment of the woman’s feet, which are enlarged and flattened.
The culmination of this style was The Farm (1921-22). The rural Catalan scene it depicts is augmented by an avant-guarde French newspaper in the centre, showing Miró sees this work transformed by the Modernist theories he had been exposed to in Paris. The concentration on each element as equally important was a key step towards generating a pictorial sign for each element. The background is rendered in flat or patterned in simple areas, highlighting the separation of figure and ground, which would become important in his mature style. Miró made many attempts to promote this work, but his surrealist colleagues found it too realistic and apparently conventional, and so he soon turned to a more explicitly surrealist approach.
From the summer of 1923 in Mont-roig, Miró began a key set of paintings where abstracted pictorial signs, rather than the realistic representations used in The Farm, are predominant. In The Tilled Field, Catalan Landscape (The Hunter) and Pastoral (1923-24), these flat shapes and lines (mostly black or strongly coloured) suggest the subjects, sometimes quite crypticly. For Catalan Landscape (The Hunter), Miró represents the hunter with a combination of signs: a triangle for the head, curved lines for the moustache, angular lines for the body. So encoded is this work that at a later time Miró provided a precise explanation of the signs used.
Through the mid-1920s Miró developed the pictorial sign language which would be central to the rest of his output. In Harlequin’s Carnival (1924-25), there is a clear continuation of the line begun with The Tilled Field. But in subsequent works, such as The happiness of loving my brunette (1925) and Painting (Fratellini) (1927), there are far fewer foreground figures, and those that remain are being simplified.
Soon after Miró also began his Spanish Dancer series of works. These simple collages, were like a conceptual counterpoint to his paintings. In Spanish Dancer (1928) itself, he combines a cork, a feather and a hatpin onto a blank sheet of paper.
One of Miró’s largest works in the United States is his only glass mosaic mural, Personnage Oiseaux (Bird Characters), 1972–1978. Miró created it specifically for Wichita State University’s Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Kansas. The mural is one of Miró’s largest two-dimensional projects, undertaken when he was 79 and completed when he was 85 years of age. Fabrication of the mural was actually completed in 1977, but Miró did not consider it finished until the installation was complete.
The glass mosaic was a first for Miró, and although he hoped to create others, he died before achieving this goal. Intending to come to the dedication of the mural in 1978, he fell at his studio in Palma (Majorca, Spain), and was unable to travel for the event. The entire south wall of the Ulrich Museum is the foundation for the 28 ft by 52 ft (8.53 m x 15.85 m) mural, composed of one million pieces of marble and Venetian glass mounted on specially treated wood, attached to the concrete wall on an aluminum grid. A gift of the artist, donor groups paid for the fabrication by Ateliers Loire of Chartres, France, and for its installation. The Ulrich Museum also acquired the 5 ½ ft by 12 ft (1.7 m x 3.7 m ) oil on canvas maquette for the mural, but it has since been sold to establish a fund to support the museum’s acquisitions and any repairs needed to the mural. The entire mural was originally assembled by an artisan at Ateliers Loire using Miró’s maquette as a guide.
Fabricated under Miró’s personal direction and completed in 1977, the 40 panels comprising the mural were shipped to WSU, and the mural was installed on the Ulrich Museum’s façade in 1978. Although it has received little recognition, the mural is a unique late work in the artist’s career, being one of Miró’s largest two-dimensional works in North America and his only one in this medium.
Miró created over 250 illustrated books. These were known as “Livre d’ Artiste.”
One such work was published in 1974, at the urging of the widow of the French poet Robert Desnos titled “Les pénalités de l’enfer ou les nouvelles Hébrides” (The Penalties of Hell or The New Hebrides). It was a set of 25 lithographs, five in black, and the others in colors.
In Paris, under the influence of the poets and writers, he developed his unique style: organic forms and flattened picture planes drawn with a sharp line. Generally thought of as a Surrealist because of his interest in automatism and the use of sexual symbols (for example, ovoids with wavy lines emanating from them), Miró’s style was influenced in varying degrees by Surrealism and Dada, yet he rejected membership to any artistic movement in the interwar European years. André Breton, the founder of Surrealism, described him as “the most Surrealist of us all.” Miró confessed to creating one of his most famous works, Harlequin’s Carnival, under similar circumstances.
It is also important to note that Miró’s surrealist origins evolved out of “repression” much like all Spanish surrealist and magic realist work, especially since the Catalan ethnicity to which he pertained was subject to special persecution by the Franco regime. Also, Joan Miró was well aware of Haitian Voodoo art and Cuban Santería religion through his travels before going into exile. This led to his signature style of art making.
Joan Miró was among the first artists to develop automatic drawing as a way to undo previous established techniques in painting, and thus, with André Masson, represented the beginning of Surrealism as an art movement. However, Miró chose not to become an official member of the Surrealists in order to be free to experiment with other artistic styles without compromising his position within the group. He pursued his own interests in the art world, ranging from automatic drawing and surrealism, to expressionism, Lyrical Abstraction, and Color Field painting.
Miró’s oft-quoted interest in the assassination of painting is derived from a dislike of bourgeois art of any kind, used as a way to promote propaganda and cultural identity among the wealthy. Specifically, Miró responded to Cubism in this way, which by the time of his quote had become an established art form in France. He is quoted as saying “I will break their guitar,” referring to Picasso’s paintings, with the intent to attack the popularity and appropriation of Picasso’s art by politics.
Four-dimensional painting is a theoretical type of painting Miró proposed in which painting would transcend its two-dimensionality and even the three-dimensionality of sculpture.
In the final decades of his life Miró accelerated his work in different media, producing hundreds of ceramics, including the Wall of the Moon and Wall of the Sun at the UNESCO building in Paris. He also made temporary window paintings (on glass) for an exhibit. In the last years of his life Miró wrote his most radical and least known ideas, exploring the possibilities of gas sculpture and four-dimensional painting.
Miró has been a significant influence on late 20th-century art, in particular the American abstract expressionist artists such as Motherwell, Calder, Gorky, Pollock, Matta and Rothko, while his lyrical abstractions and color field paintings were precursors of that style by artists such as Frankenthaler, Olitski and Louis and others. His work has also influenced modern designers, including Paul Rand and Lucienne Day, and influenced recent painters such as Julian Hatton.
Joan Miró i Ferrà won several awards in his lifetime. In 1954 he was given the Venice Biennale print making prize, in 1958 the Guggenheim International Award, and in 1980 he received the Gold Medal of Fine Arts from King Juan Carlos of Spain.
In 1981, the Palma City Council (Majorca) established the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca, housed in the four studios that Miró had donated for the purpose.
The Fundation Joan Miró, Centre d’Estudis d’Art Contemporani (Joan Miró Foundation) is a museum of modern art honoring Joan Miró and located on the hill called Montjuïc in Barcelona, Catalonia.
The building housing the museum is itself a notable example of modern design drawing from regional traditions. It was completed in 1975 by architect Josep Lluís Sert, who conceived it like an open space, with big terraces and interior courtyards that allowed an organised circulation of the visitors. The building was expanded in 1986 with the addition of the library and an auditorium.
The Foundation has a space named “Espai 13″ which is dedicated to promoting the work of young experimental artists. Although temporary exhibitions of works of other painters are also carried out. The foundation also organises itinerant exhibitions which introduce the work of the Spanish artist.
The museum has Alexander Calder’s mercury fountain.