Joan Miro (1893 – 1983)

Claimed as a Fauvist, a Surrealist, Expressionist, and a Magical Realist, the Spanish painter and sculptor Joan Miró has had an enormous influence on the work of several generations of succeeding artists. His lyrical and ebullient pictorial language drew from archaic sources, as well as the drawings of children and contemporary art movements such as Cubism and Tachisme. Miró developed a sophisticated system of symbols and icons in his work, which endured over several decades.

Born to artisans in Barcelona, Miró drew and painted from an early age but attempted business school when he enrolled in higher education at age 14. He quit that enterprise in 1912 and attended school for art between then and 1915. He had his first solo exhibition in 1918, but was so ridiculed by local artists and critics, and so enamored with the arts community abroad, that he left Spain in 1920 and settled in Paris. There he met Pablo Picasso, Max Jacob, Ernest Hemingway, and Tristan Tzara, among others. He associated with Dadaists and Surrealists, who were contemptuous of the constrictions of bourgeois society and its art, and sought radically new forms of representation.

Although Miró moved from a more Cubist style of painting to one loaded with fanciful swirls, lines, dots, and brilliant color, his painting was no less serious than his contemporaries, as testified by his 1937 mural, The Reaper, which was commissioned by the Spanish Republican government for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle, where Picasso’s Guernica was also shown for the first time. The abstract work (now lost or destroyed) depicted a Spanish peasant holding a sickle and giving a Republican salute. The icon, like Guernica, were especially urgent given the concurrent disintegration of the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil war, which would soon lead to Fascist rule of the nation. Miró was forced to return to Spain during World War II, and although the country was allied with Nazi Germany, it was safer for him than Vichy France.

Following the war, Miró expanded his practice, collaborating with poets such as André Breton for texts that would accompany his work. He also experimented with alternatives to painting: printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, and tapestries. He also received a number of large commissions, including work for the World Trade Center, the Maeght Foundation, and for the city of Chicago.

His work is found in collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, The Tate Britain, and the Reina Sofia in Madrid, among others. The Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona also makes much of his work, as well as the work of his contemporaries, available to the public and awards a biennial Joan Miró Prize to contemporary artists.