Joan Miró was born in Barcelona, in 1893, into a family of goldsmiths and watchmakers. He took his first drawing classes at the age of seven and, to the dismay of his father, enrolled at Barcelona’s fine art academy at La Llotja in 1907. After studying with the Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc, he held his first solo show at the Dalmau Gallery in 1918, where his work was ridiculed and defaced.
In 1920 Miró moved to Paris, drawn towards the community of artists gathering in Montparnasse. There he completed a number of paintings he had begun at his parents’ summer home in Catalonia. One such painting, The Farm, encapsulates the evolution of his style from the literal to the symbolic. The abstract, poetic nature of his work fitted perfectly with the dream-like automatism encouraged by the group of artists led by Andre Breton and known as the Surrealists. Miró joined the group 1924. Famously declaring an ‘assassination of painting’, he committed to using colour and form symbolically rather than literally. Two of his major works from this period, The Hunter and The Tilled Field, employ the symbolic language which would dominate his work for the next decade. Pioneering the wandering, linear style which became synonymous with Surrealism, Miró sought to express the inner workings of the human mind. He never completely abandoned subject matter, however. Indeed, his sketches illustrate how often his work grew out of methodical process. While Breton described Miró as ‘the most Surrealist of us all’, ultimately he demanded the freedom to reject membership of any specific movement.
When Pierre Matisse opened his gallery in New York City in 1931, Miró was introduced to collectors in New York. His work quickly became influential on the Modern art movement in America. Indeed, his work inspired a whole generation of American artists, perhaps most significantly Arshile Gorky, whose bold linear abstractions became a core influence on Abstract Expressionists including Jackson Pollock.
As one of the Generation of ’27 – an avant-garde collective of inter-war Spanish artists – Miró fled Spain during the civil war. A sense of Catalan nationalism had pervaded his early landscapes, but Miró preferred not to be explicitly political in his work. Until, that is, Spain’s Republican government commissioned him to paint The Reaper for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exhibition. Alternatively known as Catalan Peasant in Revolt, this painting, which clearly delineated Miró’s politics, was lost not long after being shown.
In 1939, with Germany’s invasion of France looming, Miró relocated to Varengeville in Normandy. The following year, as the Germans invaded Paris, he fled to Spain where he remained until the Vichy government fell. In the early 1940s Miró created a twenty-three-part gouache series called Constellations. Revolving around the symbolism of the night sky, Constellations reveals Miró’s shifting but recurring focus on the symbolism of birds, the female figure and the moon – iconography which would dominate his work for the rest of his career.
In the latter decades of his life, Miró worked across a range of media, producing hundreds of sculptures, ceramics, window paintings and tapestries. In 1959, Breton asked Miró to represent Spain in The Homage to Surrealism exhibition alongside 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. In 1974, Miró created a tapestry for the World Trade Centre in New York – one of the most expensive works of art lost during the September 11th attacks in 2001. In 1979 Miró was given an honorary doctorate from the University of Barcelona. In 1981, he unveiled a large, mixed media sculpture situated in the downtown Loop area of Chicago. The Sun, the Moon and One Star was later renamed Chicago. Miró died at in his home in Palma on December 25th 1983.