Born on April 20, 1893 in Barcelona, Joan Miró Ferra was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker and decorative artist and a key figure in the history of abstract art.
Miró studied business at the Escuela de Comercio and art at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios de la Lonja in Barcelona from 1907 to 1910. In 1911, an attack of typhus, as well as nervous depression, enabled him give up his business course and resume his art studies. From 1912-15 he attended Francesc Galí’s Escola d’Art in Barcelona.
Between 1915 and 1918 Miró painted in a style that he described as Fauve, using strong, bright colours. During this period he painted portraits as well as landscapes and views of villages in the province of Tarragona. In 1918 Miró had his first solo exhibition in the Barcelona gallery run by Lluís Dalmau, a key figure in the Catalan avant-garde.
From 1918 to 1922 Miró’s paintings became meticulous and precise with a stylization and flatness akin to the Romanesque paintings that had impressed him in the Museu d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona. In 1920, he traveled to Paris, where he met Pablo Picasso. From this time on, he divided his time between Paris and Montroig, Spain. In Paris, he associated with the poets Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, and Tristan Tzara and participated in Dada activities. Miró had his first solo show in Paris at the Galerie la Licorne in 1921 and his work was included in the Salon d’Automne of 1923.
In 1924, Miró joined the Surrealist group. In 1925, his solo show at the Galerie Pierre in Paris was a major Surrealist event. That same year, Miró was included in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre. In 1928, he visited the Netherlands and began a series of paintings inspired by Dutch masters. It was during this that that he also produced his first papiers collés and collages.
In 1929, Miró began experimenting with lithography, and his first etchings date from 1933. From 1934 to 1936 Miró produced a series of Wild Paintings, which manifested a violence that had previously been unseen. “Aggression, sexuality and drama here took a deformed and grotesque human form which was emphasized by strange and unexpected materials and surfaces; in some cases paint was mixed with sand and applied to cardboard, while in others he scrawled graffiti on masonite or over paper prepared with tar.”
Miró’s first major museum retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1941. That same year, he began working in ceramics with Josep Lloréns y Artigas and started to concentrate on prints. From 1954-58, Miró worked almost exclusively in these two mediums. In 1958, Miró received a Guggenheim International Award for his murals for the UNESCO building in Paris.
In 1960, Miró’s work underwent a dramatic change when he began to use black to outline shapes and to fill them in. This work is “dramatic, even tragic, with colour often suppressed or counteracted by the weight accorded to black. His faith in abstraction was expressed during this period with particular eloquence in large canvases in which broad strokes of colour were set against sensuously painted backgrounds, as in his paintings of the mid-1920s; the simplicity of gesture and boldness of scale and handling make these among his most impressive and influential later works.”
From 1966 onward, Miró worked intensely in sculpture. These works were based mainly on small objects, which he joined in unique ways. Stones, branches and other objects as well as manufactured items, were joined in a Surrealist style but in a way that also revealed his desire for contact with nature and simple things.
A Miró retrospective took place at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1974. In 1978, the Musée National d’Art Moderne exhibited over 500 works in a major retrospective of his drawings.
Joan Miró died December 25, 1983, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. His final work, completed after his death, was the large sculpture Woman and Bird, which was installed in the gardens on the former site of the Barcelona abattoir.
Sources: Guggenheim Venice, MoMA,