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Often cited as a forgotten figure in Surrealism, Spanish-Catalan painter Joan Miro combined folk imagery with that of the subconscious mind.

Often cited as a forgotten figure in Surrealism, Spanish-Catalan painter Joan Miro combined folk imagery with that of the subconscious mind. Producing ground-breaking artworks that combined Catalan Folk Art with Cubism and Surrealism, Miró is well-known as the foremost painter of the subconscious mind.


Miró was born in Barcelona in 1893, the son of a goldsmith and watchmaker. He began making art as early as the age of 7, when he was sent to attend drawing classes at a private school in Barcelona’s old town.

Later, in 1907, the 14-year-old Miró enrolled at The Escola de la Llotja, a renowned fine art academy. Unfortunately, his parents were unhappy with him dedicating so much of his time to making artworks, and forced him to attend business school at the same time.

By 1918, Miró had definitively abandoned his business career. In the same year, he held his first solo show at Barcelona’s Galeries Dalmau, exhibiting works inspired by the Fauvist and Cubist movements. By 1920, he had moved to Paris: the home of the Surrealists.

First Paintings

One of Miró’s first known paintings, The Peasant, was created in 1914. This expressive work recalls the gesturally applied brush strokes of the Impressionists, a dissenting art movement birthed in France during the 1870s, and is representational in style.

Much of the Spanish artist’s early works are characterised by their relationship to the countryside, specifically that of his native Catalonia. Works such as La Masia (The Farm), produced in 1921-22, depict the inventory of a traditional Catalan farmhouse, owned by Miró’s family since 1911. The work combines the realist representation of farm machinery with a semi-Cubist, Illusionist, and Symbolist treatment of landscape and perspective. Some have interpreted this as symptomatic of Miró’s ‘split’ interests in both traditional Catalan painting, and the artistic style emerging in Paris.

Commenting on the piece, Miró dubbed The Farm ‘the point of departure for what was to follow.’


In 1921, following a string of exhibitions in his native Barcelona, Miró held his first Parisian solo exhibition at the private Galerie La Licorne. There, he exhibited his 1918 work, Portrait Of Herbiberto Casany (Le chauffeur).

Miró formally joined the Surrealists from 1924. By the 1930s, Miró had collaborated with influential Surrealist artists, such as Max Ernst, and became fiercely committed to depicting the struggles of his native Spain, embroiled in Civil War from 1936.

In 1937, he painted his mural The Reaper – a depiction of peasant revolt – for the Paris World Exhibition. Following the end of World War Two, a period which saw the artist flee the Nazi invasion of France and return to his native Spain, Miró became internationally famous, exhibiting widely in the United States.

Most Famous Works

During the 1920s, Miró was known for painting his ‘dream pictures’. Amongst the most well-known examples of this abstract series of works is the 1925 painting, The Birth Of The World. The piece features a series of geometric shapes which seem to float above the otherwise grungy, unevenly primed canvas. To create the work, Miró combined expressive painting techniques with carefully calculated composition.

Later in the ‘20s, Miró pursued abstraction with a greater intensity, producing his first ‘Blue’ paintings, such as the iconic Etoile Bleue (1927). This work would directly inspire his equally well-known Triptych Bleu, I, II, III (1961).

Other examples of Miró’s most famous works are Escalera de escape, also known as The Escape Ladder (1940). This piece was one of 23 works Miró created for a series of paintings known as Constellations. Featuring a checkerboard-like ladder, a recurring motif in Miró’s work during this period, the piece deals explicitly with the outbreak of World War Two, from which Miró narrowly escaped.


Amongst Miró’s most significant artistic influences is the Fauvist movement of the early 1900s. Taking its name from the French word ‘fauve’, or ‘wild beast’, the movement was characterised by expressive, colourful, and painterly representations. Its members - les Fauves - exhibited for the first time in 1905 at Paris’s renowned Salon d’Automne exhibition. Henri Matisse is perhaps the most well-known member of the movement.

Throughout his lengthy career Miró took great inspiration from the Cubist movement, imbuing his artworks with a geometric approach which led André Breton to describe him as ‘the most surreal of us all’.

The work of Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, therefore, proved equally influential; the artist’s transition between traditionally representational art and a radical approach to applying paint is widely-hailed as having facilitated a turning point in art history, and the advent of Cubism.

Style & Technique

Witness to the enormous variety of artistic and cultural developments that characterised the 20th century, Miró actively resisted settling into any particular style. A member of the European avant-garde, Miró’s life and work trace the gradual development towards increased, and total, abstraction.

A defining feature of Miró’s artistic output, however, is his sustained use of a limited colour palette; comparative to his later works, many of the artist’s early pieces appear restrained. Later, during the 1930s and ‘40s, any colour the artist did use was employed in a bold and expressive fashion, as in the world-famous work El Sol (The Sun) (1949).

Experimentation was always central to Miró’s artistic practice: dabbling in collage and sculpture, many of Miró’s works were created by throwing paint or ink directly onto canvas or paper to form backdrops to his considered rendering of shapes and abstract forms.

Life & Times

Miró was a lifelong supporter of independence for his native Catalonia. The 1924 abstract painting, The Hunter (Catalan Landscape), depicts a landscape that recalls life on the artist’s family farm in Catalonia. Various references to the region’s culture and positioning within European politics and geography pepper the piece: in the foreground, the word ‘sard’, a shortened form of ‘Sardana’, references the Catalan national dance. In the rear of the painting, the Catalan flag is sandwiched between the national flags of the region’s neighbours, France and Spain.

Last Paintings

Miró created artworks up until his death at the age of 90 in 1983. In 1974, the artist collaborated with fellow Catalan artist, Josep Royo, to create a tapestry that would later hang at the World Trade Center in New York City.

Two years prior to his death, in 1981, a large public sculpture entitled The Sun, The Moon And One Star was unveiled in the US city of Chicago and it is still standing today. The work is a scaled-up version of a bronze model Miró had created in 1967 with the same name.

On the Market

The prominent art collector Jim Ede - a former assistant at the Tate Gallery and founder of Kettle’s Yard Gallery in Cambridge (UK) - once joked that he had bought Miró’s 1927 painting, Tic Tic, directly from the artist in exchange for a cup of coffee on a Parisian terrasse. The price of Miró’s artworks, however, has increased significantly since the 1920s.

In June 2012, Peinture (Étoile Bleue) was sold at auction for £23.5 million: then the highest price ever paid for a Miró artwork. In June 2020, Miró’s 1927 work Femme au chapeau rouge smashed this record when it sold for a staggering $28.7 million.