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Joan Miro - Spain's Painter and Artist of the Surrealism Movement

Updated on June 1, 2012
The Tilted Field 1923-24  Guggenheim Museum, New York City.  Miro's first Surrealist masterpiece.
The Tilted Field 1923-24 Guggenheim Museum, New York City. Miro's first Surrealist masterpiece. | Source
Joan Miro, 1935
Joan Miro, 1935 | Source

Joan Miro 1893-1983

Besides Picasso, another of my favorite Spanish painters and artists is Joan Miro, who painted in the Surrealism style and movement. I know, Salvadore Dali, is the Spanish Surrealism painter everyone thinks of first. He is not my favorite - in fact many of his works come across to me as creepy. But, Joan Miro, although working in the Surrealistic style and the movement, has works that come across to me as happy, bright, and uplifting and therefore is my favorite of the Spanish Surrealism painters and artists.

I personally discovered Miro when I first visited Barcelona in the 1990s. Barcelona is an exciting, spontaneous, contemporary Spanish city in the Catalan region of Spain. Its Catalan people are individualistic, self-reliant, and even have their own fiercely independent dialect they speak, Catalan, the most difficult and unusual of all the Spanish dialects. Joan Miro's paintings and sculptures fit right into this city and its cultural atmosphere.

You will find Miro's works at the local museum, the Fundacio Miro Museum on top the Monjuic hill in Barcelona, Spain. The museum has been here since 1975-76, and houses his works. He painted and sculpted during the Surrealism art movement and his works have earned him international acclaim. Many of his paintings are child-like but they shout of Catalan pride. From the 1930s on, Miro expressed contempt for conventional painting methods because he believed these conventional methods supported the bourgeois society, culture and customs. His goal was to upset the visual elements of established painting and he did so eloquently.

In his early years of painting, Miro was influenced by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne. By 1918 he had a solo exhibition of his works in Barcelona and several years later he settled in the Montparnasse section of Paris and finished paintings he had begun on his parents Catalan farm.

The Surrealism Movement in Art

Surrealism was a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s headquartered in Paris, France and best known for its visual arts. The Surrealist art features the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions, and the non sequitur (things do not follow logically). The leader of the movement was Andre Breton who believed that above all Surrealism was a revolutionary movement. Guillaume Apollinaire coined the word surrealism and it appeared in the preface of his play,Les Mamelles de Tiresias, written in 1903 and first performed in 1917. From the 1920s on the Surrealism movement spread around the globe, affecting the visual arts, literature, film and music of many countries and languages as well as political thought and practice, philosophy and social theory.

The Surrealism movement developed out of the Dada activities during WWI. The war scattered writers and artists based in Paris all over Europe. During the war, many of these artists and writers became involved with Dada which was a philosophy that excessive rational thought and bourgeois values had brought the conflict of war upon the world. Many protested with anti-art gatherings, performances, writings and art works.

After the war, many of the Dadaists returned to Paris and continued their activities there. Anton Breton, the head and spokesperson for the Surrealism movement began looking into writing about accounts of dreams and as a psychiatrist, he used Sigmund Freud's psycholanalytic methods with soldiers who were suffering from shellshock. This is how dream-like impressions became part of Surrealism art and writings. Freud's work with free association, dream anaylsis and the unconscious mind was of utmost importance to the Surrealists in developing methods to liberate the imagination.

Joan Miro became part of the Surrealism movement in Paris and Barcelona.

Surrealism in Art

To create the complete Surrealist effect in art, the Surrealist artist used many techniques and games to provide inspiration for the canvas and sculpturing. These were used to free the imagination by producing a creative process free of conscious control. The goal was to reach the unconscious mind as a source of inspiration which was central to the nature of Surrealism. One of the techniques used by Miro was automatic drawing in which the artist begins drawing anything that comes to mind without censoring what he/she is drawing or painting. There are many techniques used in Surrealism painting, but automatism was the one used most by Miro.

Dona i Ocell  1982  Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain
Dona i Ocell 1982 Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain | Source

Joan Miro's Art Works

Once settled in Paris, Miro finished his important transition painting, "The Farm "(1921-22), which he had started on his parents farm in the Catalan region of Spain. With this painting he transitioned to a more individualistic style of painting that included nationalistic qualties of the Catalan region of his birth. This is a Catalan scene augmented with a an avant-guarde French newspaper in the center. This represented that Miro saw his work transformed by Modernist theories he had been exposed to in Paris.

Ernest Hemingway ultimately bought this painting and has said of it, "It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when your are away and cannot go there. No one else has been able to paint these two very opposing things." Through this painting, Miro developed a symbolism and nationalism that would stick witih him his entire career and life.

Miro was influenced by the Surrealism and Dada movements in Paris at the time. Andre Breton said Miro was, "the most Surrealist of us all." Miro was the first of the fine artists to develop automatic drawing of the movement as a way to undo previous established techniques in painting and he represented the beginning of Surrealism as an art movement. Miro has said, "I'd go to bed, and sometimes I hadn't any supper. I saw things and I jotted them down in a book. I saw shape on the ceiling."

And. Miro included these shapes in his paintings and sculptures.

"The Tilted Field," was one of Miro's first works classified as Surrealist and it employes the symbolic language that was to dominate the art of the next decade. Dualities and contradictions became inherent in his works and he artistically joined the Surrealism movement. He fit in well with the context of dream like automatism advocated by the Surrealism movement. He experimented with collage and the process of painting within his own work and to reject framing that traditional painting had.

Miro, however. did not completely abandon form and function. Despite his Surrealist automatic techniques that he employed in his paintings in the 1920s, his pre-sketches of his work show a methodical process. His work always maintained a symbolic, thematic language. In 1926, he collaborated with Max Ernst, another painter, on designs for Sergei Diaghilev ballets. With Miro's help. Ernst pioneered the technique of grattage - troweled pigment onto his canvases.

Pierre Matisse opened an art gallery in New York City in 1931 and represented Joan Miro and introduced his work to the U. S. art market and frequently exhibited Miro's work in New York. During the Spanish Civil War (1934-1939) Miro remained in Paris as he was not able to return to Barcelona in the summers as he had been in previous years. In 1937, the Spanish Republican government commisisioned Miro to paint a mural for the Spanish Pavilion and for the first time his painting took on a politically charged meaning.

When Germany invaded Paris and France in 1941, Miro fled to Barcelona, which was now under the autocratic control of Francisco Franco, and remained there for the duratiion of WWII. During this stay in Barcelona, Miro created 23 gouache series of Constellations. His celestial symbolism earned him praise from Andre Breton. This shift in focus by Miro to the subject of women, birds and the moon dominated his paintings and works for the rest of his career.

Interestingly, Miro created a tapestry for the World Trade Center in New York City in 1974 and it was one of the most expensive works of art lost on the September 11 attacks. In 1981, Miro's "The Sun, the Moon and One Star", a ceramic mural, was unveiled in the downtown Chicago loop area. Miro died in 1983 of heart disease in his home in Palma, Majorca, Spain.

Joan Miro was a true innovator in the Surrealism movement of the 1920s, 1930's and beyond. He is one of the true Modernists and displayed in his life and art works the modern, contemporary Barcelona, Spain. His fiercely independent and individualistic characteristics from the Catalan region of Spain, always showed up in his works of art. Joan Miro was a unique and creative force, full of dualisms and contradictions, that found a place in his art. He taped his unconscious mind and revealed it through his works of art with great success.

Copyright (c) 2012 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved

The Farm 1921-22  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
The Farm 1921-22 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC | Source
The Hunter  1923-24  Catalan Landscape
The Hunter 1923-24 Catalan Landscape | Source
Pajaro Lunar (Moon Bird)  1966  Reina Sofia Museum,  Madrid, Spain
Pajaro Lunar (Moon Bird) 1966 Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, Spain | Source


Submit a Comment
  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Mhatter99: Thank you and thank you for stopping by to read this. I hope you enjoyed it.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    7 years ago from Sunny Florida

    This is a very interesting hub and I love the pictures of the Miro's paintings. They are very unique and I like them also. I have not had the pleasure to traveling to Spain but it sounds wonderful also. Thanks for filling in the some things about his life that I didn't know.

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 

    7 years ago from San Francisco

    Thank you for this interesting article

  • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

    Suzette Walker 

    7 years ago from Taos, NM

    Oh my gosh! I love all the artists you love also. I also have writings on Kahlo, Rivera and Picasso. I adore Spain and lived there back in the 1980s, so I adore anything Spanish! So nice to meet a kindred spirit! I'm glad you enjoyed reading this! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • cclitgirl profile image

    Cynthia Calhoun 

    7 years ago from Western NC

    Spain, art and culture are three of my favorite things! I love Miro - he's one of my favorite artists, besides Frida Kahlo, Picasso, Diego Rivera and a host of lesser-well-known artists. Great information here. Thanks so much for sharing and reminding me once again about how much I love Miro.


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