Joan Miro
Biography of Spanish Surrealist Painter, Abstract Artist.
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The Farm (1922)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
By Joan Miro, one of the most
influential of 20th century painters.

Joan Miro (1893-1983)

Contents

Biography
Training
Paris
Surrealism
World War II
Exhibitions and Awards
Reputation
Paintings/Artworks
Collections

For analysis of works by Spanish Surrealists like Joan Miro,
please see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).



Dog Barking at the Moon (1926)
Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art.
One of the most delightful
20th century paintings.

Biography

One of the greatest modern artists and a highly influential figure in 20th century Spanish painting, the Catalan fantasy painter, sculptor, ceramicist printmaker and designer Joan Miro was almost as prolific and long-lived as his elder compatriot Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Miro was an exponent of Magic Realism and also Surrealism, being famous for his experimental abstract art, that employs simple dreamy forms floating on fields of colour, as well as his use of automatism in art. Highly versatile and dedicated to his profession as an artist, Miro continued working to the end, taking up stained glass art at the age of eighty. Strongly opposed to traditional concepts and methods of painting, which he considered too bourgeois, he sought a new pictorial language, free of conventional forms, that appealed to the senses. Miro is one of the major figures in the history of modern art, and many of his paintings are now available online as prints in the form of poster art.


Blue II (1961) (Part of Triptych)
National Museum of Modern Art,
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

WORLDS TOP ARTISTS
For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

Training

Joan Miro was born in Montroig, south of Tarragona in Spain. During the period 1907 to 1911, he attended business school and took classes at the School of Fine Art (La Lonja) in Barcelona. After contracting typhus in 1911, he recuperated at Montroig - the family holiday home - which became a favourite annual retreat. After this, he spent three years (1912-15) studying at Francisco Gali's art school in Barcelona, and in 1918 he had his first solo exhibition in the city, at the Dalmau Gallery.

Despite Barcelona's attraction for artists (Miro had already met the Frenchman Francis Picabia (1879-1953) the previous year), Paris was the centre of world art and the young Miro was increasingly drawn towards the Ecole de Paris and the collection of avant-garde painters and sculptors who had settled in Paris. He paid his first visit there in 1919, during which he met and became friendly with his fellow Spaniard Picasso, studied Cubism, flirted with the new Dada movement and dabbled with Magic Realism.

BEST ABSTRACT ART
For a guide to the best examples
of abstraction, see:
Abstract Paintings: Top 100.
For a list of the most influential
styles/periods, see:
Abstract Art Movements.

WHAT IS VISUAL ART?
For an explanation of the
terminology, see:
Art: Definition and Meaning.

Paris

In 1920, he moved to Paris, establishing the habit of spending the winters in Paris and the summers at Montroig; a pattern he maintained for the next decade. One of Miro's important early works from this early artistic period is The Farm (1921-22) - a painting he worked on seven hours a day for nine months. This stylized genre painting of the countryside was completed in his Paris studio in 1922 and marked the conclusion of his phase of Magical Realism. It's distinguishing characteristic is it's lifelessness. It portrays nature as if taken from a textbook. Everything that can possibly be included in the picture of the farm and its surroundings, is included, and gives an insight into Miro's enthusiasm for nostalgic collections of objects.

Surrealism

In 1924 he joined the group of Surrealist artists and in 1925 participated in their first exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris. Some of his painting was now overtly fantastic, depicting objects as signs over broad washes of colour, at times with words and symbols. He was also one of the first artists to develop automatic drawing as a way to circumvent established techniques in painting, and was therefore (with his lifelong friend Andre Masson) a genuine pioneer of Surrealism. The Tilled Field, (1924, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), a complex arrangement of objects and figures, was a major early example of Miro's surrealist art. Another was Harlequin's Carnival (1924, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY), which presented a bizzare assembly of insect-like creatures dancing and making music.

As it was, for most if not all his life, Miro - like Yves Tanguy (1900-55) - remained true to the fundamental Surrealist principle of freeing the creativity of the unconscious mind from the restraints of logic and reason, and Andre Breton, the high priest of the movement, wrote of the Spaniard that he was the most surrealistic of all the members.

In 1926, in the first of many new activities, he joined with Max Ernst in creating designs for Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. And it was with Miro's help, that Ernst pioneered his oil painting technique of grattage.

In 1928 he visited the Netherlands. On his return to Paris, inspired by postcards of 17th century Dutch genre subjects, he produced four works in parody - Dutch Interior (1929, MOMA, New York). In 1929 he had a major solo exhibition in Paris, followed by a one-man show in New York in 1930, and in London in 1933. Many other exhibitions followed.

Woman (1934) is one of five pastels completed during the summer of 1934. Part of Miro's series known as "Peintures Sauvages", it features primitive, distorted biomorphic forms floating over a shaded background. These grotesque figures serve (as do those in Picasso's Guernica, painted three years later) as a metaphor for the human descent into animal-like barbarism. Indeed, both artists were celebrated contributors to the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle (World Fair) in 1937, producing pictorial symbols of the anti-war movement.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, Miro sought refuge on Spanish territory where he remained until 1948. His artistic response to the conflict was expressed in his series of 23 small gouache and oil-wash paintings on paper, known as "Constellations". An example is Constellation: Awakening in the early morning (1941) Kimbell Art Foundation, Texas). On the surface these works exhibited a playful, surrealistic style, with doodled creatures floating in fluid fields of colour. But in reality, they represent a flight from totalitarian cruelty and carnage. They were shown in New York in 1945.

By now, Miro was an internationally recognized artist, although his creative output in a number of different art-forms remained prolific. In 1944 he started making ceramics and a little later took up sculpture: to begin with small terracottas, but later a number of large-scale pieces made for casting in bronze. He paid his first visit to the United States in 1947, and in the same year participated in the International Surrealist Exhibition in New York. He also created a large mural for the Terrace Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati.

Back in Barcelona at the end of the 1940s, Miro made regular visits to Paris to develop his printmaking techniques. His collaboration with Fernand Mourlot of the Mourlot Studios yielded over one thousand different lithographic editions, while he used the Atelier Lacouriere for his engraving. One of his main motivations for taking up printmaking was his ambition to make his art as widely accessible as possible. Along with Paul Klee, he was also a growing influence on younger European COBRA painters like Karel Appel (1921-2006).

Exhibitions and Awards

In 1951 and 1959-61, as further proof of his growing international stature as an artist, the Museum of Modern Art MOMA (New York) staged major exhibitions of his work. In 1954, he was awarded the Venice Biennale prize for printmaking, and in 1957 was commissioned to produce two vast ceramic wall decorations, Wall of the Sun and Wall of the Moon (installed 1958) for the UNESCO Building in Paris. He completed another similar commission for Harvard University (1959-60). In 1958 he received the Guggenheim International Award for contemporary art.

In 1959, Miro - along with Salvador Dali, Enrique Tabara, and Eugenio Granell - represented Spain in The Homage to Surrealism exhibition, and in the early 1960s he completed a set of sculptures and ceramics for the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, which were completed and installed in the gardens of the institute, in 1964. Other commissions during this period included ceramic murals for the Business School in St Gallen, Switzerland (1964), for Barcelona's airport (1970) and for the Zurich Kunsthaus art museum (1971).

In 1974, a major exhibition of Miro's work was held at the Grand Palais in Paris, the same year the artist designed a piece of tapestry art for the World Trade Center in New York City (it was destroyed during the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001) and in 1975, a Miro retrospective was held in Madrid.

Another important creation of Miro's is Personnage Oiseaux (Bird Characters), a unique glass mosaic mural, completed and installed in 1978, which he made for the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University. He undertook the commission when he was 79 and finished it when he was 85. The 28 x 52 feet mural consists of one million pieces of marble and Venetian glass mounted on wood and attached to the concrete wall by an aluminum grid.

In 1980 Miro received the Gold Medal of Fine Arts from King Juan Carlos of Spain, and in the following year his huge mixed-media sculpture The Sun, the Moon and One Star (Miro's Chicago) was unveiled across the street from the Chicago Picasso in the downtown Loop area of the city. The model is now in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Finally, at the age of 90, Miro passed away at his home in Palma, Mallorca on Christmas Day, 1983.

Reputation as an Artist

Miro remains a major figure in both modern and contemporary art of the 20th century. An important influence on Spanish art and American painting (see for example his effect on Arshile Gorky), his restless vision spanned almost all the visual arts, and his unique pictorial language continues to interest and entrance visitors to regular exhibitions of his work. In describing his work, the artist once said:

"The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me. There, in my pictures, tiny forms in huge empty spaces. Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains - everything which is bare has always greatly impressed me."

In May, 2008, his work La Caresse des Etoiles was sold at auction for $17 million, a world record for the artist.

Selected Paintings/Artworks

Joan Miro's best-known works include:

- Vegetable Garden with Donkey (1918) Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
- The Farm (1922) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- Still Life II (The Carbide Lamp) (1923) MOMA, New York.
- The Tilled Field (1924) Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
- Harlequin's Carnival (1924) Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.
- Dog Barking at the Moon (1926) Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art.
- Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird (1926) MOMA, New York.
- Rope and People (1935) MOMA, New York.
- Constellation: Awakening in the Early Morning (1941) Kimbell Art Foundation.
- Wall of the Sun and Wall of the Moon (1958) UNESCO Building, Paris.
- Blue II (1961) National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Georges Pompidou.
- The Gold of the Azure (1967) Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona.
- Bird Characters (1978) Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita University.
- The Sun, the Moon and One Star (1980) Milwaukee Art Museum.
- Woman and Bird (1982) Parc Joan Miro, Barcelona.

Collections

Paintings and sculptures by Joan Miro i Ferra reside in many of the world's best art museums, including the Reina Sofia, Madrid, the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Joan Miro Foundation in Montjuic, Barcelona. There is a Miro Museum in Palma; and the Maeght Foundation, near Vence in the South of France has a number of his works.

• For more biographies of Spanish artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more information about abstract Surrealism, see: Homepage.


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