Miró, Joan – Spain

1893-1983 | European Art

The life and work of Joan Miró

Joan Miró was born in Barcelona in 1893. A very versatile artist, he cultivated painting, sculpture, ceramics and engraving, and is considered one of the greatest exponents of surrealism.

He combined his studies in Business with the drawing classes that were taught in the afternoons at La Llotja in Barcelona. After finishing his studies and spending a year working as an accountant, illness forced him to move to his family’s farmhouse in Mont-roig del Camp for a while. After his convalescence, he made the decision to dedicate his whole career to the world of art. He entered Francesc Galí’s art school and took life drawing classes at the Círculo Artístico de Sant Lluc. During the years of his art education he was also influenced by European avant-garde trends through publications, which were to catch his attention in particular.

The early days and his first contact with surrealism

Initially, Joan Miró’s painting was dominated by figuration that focused on landscapes, portraits and nudes, characterised by the practice of formal expressionism with clear fauvist and cubist influences. His style would evolve towards flat painting and naïve but meticulous graphics, the most representative example of which is his work “The Farm” (1921-1922).

In the early 1920s he moved to Paris, where he worked in Pablo Gargalló’s studio and met Picasso, André Masson, Ernst Hemingway, Tristán Tzara, Paul Klee and André Breton. His work evolved towards a greater definition of form, indicating the beginning of a new language that was already incubating fantastic and dreamlike elements, although with its particular stamp and roots in the people. In his works, we also see the use of linear composition, the recreation of unreal atmospheres and the use of nuanced chromatic fields, inherited from Paul Klee.

His relationship with the surrealists led him to start incorporating elements of the movement into his work, such as hieroglyphs and calligraphic signs, and in 1924 he signed the Surrealist Manifesto. One of his most characteristic paintings from this period is “The Harlequin’s Carnival” (1924-25), considered as the beginning of Joan Miró’s surrealism.

In 1926 he worked with Marx Ernst on the sets and costumes for the ballet Romeo and Juliet for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and two years later he made his first Dadaist-inspired collage objects in a series entitled “Spanish Dancers”.

Between 1928 and 1929, Miró went through a stage in which he questioned the meaning of painting and returned to figuration and pictorial preciosity, inspired by 17th-century Dutch painting, having travelled often to the Netherlands over those years. However, this experience was also instrumental in him developing the theory that would lead to his schematic language and subsequent conceptual abstraction.

From abstract surrealism to plastic individualism  

After marrying Pilar Juncosa in 1929 he moved to Paris again. Once back in the Parisian artistic environment, he reconnected with the theme of the dreamlike and the unconscious, and decided to put an end to conventional painting methods forever. He then began his search for the automation of painting, focusing his attention on the subconscious and on the world of dreams and distancing himself from the characteristic details found in his first stage. From now on his work was to lean more and more towards abstraction and naïve art, through the use of simple forms and the reduction of his colour palette to primary colours. He would maintain this aesthetic in all his future production.

At the end of the decade, the differences within the surrealist group had become increasingly noticeable, both in the plastic arts and in the political facet. Despite accepting the principles of surrealism, Miró gradually distanced himself from the postulates of the movement. Although he continued to paint, he focused more on creating collages characterised by his own unique aesthetic, different to that proposed by cubism.

From the 1930s he lived and worked between Mont-roig, Paris, Barcelona and New York. Throughout this time he was to expand his repertoire of disciplines, making etchings, assemblages of objects, collages, panel paintings, bas-relief and sculpture.

In 1936, the political circumstances in the Spanish peninsula forced him to move with his family to Paris, from where he supported the Republican cause. However, the war footing was spreading throughout Europe, so the family moved again, this time to Normandy. There Joan Miró produced his famous series “Constellations”, a series of small paintings on paper in which we see a return to the ingenuity of traditional Mirónian iconography through the representation of birds, women and stars on a labyrinth of black lines dotted with primary colours.

As a result of events caused by the German occupation, he decided to leave Normandy and settled in Mallorca, where he combined painting with an incursion into other techniques, such as sculpture and engraving.

Joan Miró’s graphic work

From his initial stage, the artist had shown an interest in the graphic arts, and during one of his stays in New York he worked with the prestigious engraver Stanley Hayter at Atelier 17, enriching his knowledge of intaglio. This bore fruit in various works, such as the engravings in his “Barcelona” series.

Joan Miró’s sculpture

Sculpture awakened an early interest in him and he devoted part of his time to it, but it was not until the 1940s that he focused his attention on this technique. Here he developed his taste for the creation of volumes and spaces, as well as the incorporation of everyday or found objects. At that time he also cast his first bronzes and started working with different materials, such as marble and concrete coated with ceramics. He would develop this technique in collaboration with the ceramist Josep Llorens Artigas in the production of large murals for various institutions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Miró has been an internationally known artist since the 1950s, and his works are exhibited all over the world. He alternated large-scale public works with smaller works, such as his collages, bronzes and tapestries.

A new stage was to come about in Miró’s paintings from the 1960s, characterised by simplicity of line in his graphics, typical of childhood spontaneity. He makes thick strokes in black, his canvases show drips and splashes of paint, and he repeatedly alludes to the earth, the sky, birds and women in his themes, painted in primary colours.

One of the artist’s greatest projects was the creation of the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, responsible for managing and disseminating his legacy.

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RUIZA, M., FERNÁNDEZ, T. and TAMARO, E., 2004. Biografía de Joan Miró. In Biografías y Vidas [online]. Barcelona. Available at: https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/m/miro.htm [Date of access: 11/08/2020]

SÁNCHEZ, Marta, 2019. El arte más personal de las vanguardias del siglo XX. In: Alejandra de Argos [online]. Available at: https://www.alejandradeargos.com/index.php/es/completas/32-artistas/41783-joan-miro-biografia-obras-y-exposiciones [Date of access: 10/09/2020]

VARGAS, Sofía, 2022. Joan Miró: Conoce la vida y obra de uno de los grandes maestros surrealistas. In: My Modern MET [online]. Available at: https://mymodernmet.com/es/joan-miro/ [Date of access: 10/09/2020]

Official website of the Fundación Joan Miró: https://www.fmirobcn.org/es/joan-miro/  [Date of access: 10/09/2020]