Early life and artistic training
MirÃ³â€™s father was a watchmaker and goldsmith. Both his fatherâ€™s background as an artisan and the austere Catalan landscape would be of great importance to his art. According to his parentsâ€™ wishes, he attended a commercial college. He then worked for two years as a clerk in an office until he had a mental and physical breakdown. His parents took him for convalescence to an estate they bought especially for this purposeâ€”Montroig, near Tarragona, Spainâ€”and in 1912 they allowed him to attend an art school in Barcelona. His teacher at this school, Francisco GalÃ, showed a great understanding of his 18-year-old pupil, advising him to touch the objects he was about to draw, a procedure that strengthened MirÃ³â€™s feeling for the spatial quality of objects. GalÃ also introduced his pupil to examples of the latest schools of modern art from Paris as well as to the buildings of Antoni GaudÃ, Barcelonaâ€™s famous Art Nouveau architect.
From 1915 to 1919 MirÃ³ worked in Spainâ€”in Barcelona, at Montroig, and on the island of Majorcaâ€”painting landscapes, portraits, and nudes in which he focused on the rhythmic interplay of volumes and areas of colour. He experimented with the boldly colourful Fauvist style, but his treatment of form was geometric, influenced by the work of Paul CÃ©zanne and the Cubist artists.
From early in his career MirÃ³ sought to establish means of metaphorical expressionâ€”that is, to discover signs that stand for concepts of nature in a transcendent, poetic sense. He wanted to portray nature as it would be depicted by a primitive person or a child equipped with the intelligence of a 20th-century adult; in this respect, he had much in common with the Surrealists and Dadaists, two schools of modern artists who were striving to achieve similar aims by more intellectual means than those used by MirÃ³.
Paris and early work
From 1919 onward MirÃ³ lived alternately in Spain and Paris. He was one of the many artists who made their way from abroad to Paris during the first two decades of the 20th century. Most of these foreign artists elected to become French citizens after coming into contact with the exciting French artistic metropolis, but MirÃ³ remained attached to his Catalan homeland.
In the early 1920s MirÃ³ combined meticulously detailed realism with abstraction in landscapes such as the renowned Farm (1921) and The Tilled Field (1923â€“24). He gradually removed the objects he portrayed from their natural context and reassembled them as if in accordance with a new, mysterious grammar, creating a ghostly, eerie impression.
From 1925 to 1928, under the influence of the Dadaists, Surrealists, and Paul Klee, MirÃ³ painted â€œdream picturesâ€ and â€œimaginary landscapesâ€ in which the linear configurations and patches of colour look almost as though they were set down randomly, as in The Policeman (1925). In paintings such as Dog Barking at the Moon (1926), he rendered figures of animals and humans as indeterminate forms. MirÃ³ signed the manifesto of the Surrealist movement in 1924, and the members of the group respected him for the way he portrayed the realm of unconscious experience. The poet AndrÃ© Breton, the chief spokesman of Surrealism, stated that MirÃ³ was â€œthe most Surrealist of us all.â€
After a trip in 1928 to the Netherlands, where he studied the 17th-century Dutch realist painters in the museums, MirÃ³ executed a series of works based on Old Master paintings titled Dutch Interiors (1928). In the 1930s MirÃ³ became more experimental, working with techniques of collage and sculptural assemblage and creating sets and costumes for ballets. He designed tapestries in 1934, which led to his interest in the monumental and in murals. His paintings began to be exhibited regularly in French and American galleries.
At the time of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, MirÃ³ was living in Paris. Although he typically was not political in his work, the turmoil in his native country inspired him to embrace social criticism. For example, he depicted a peasant revolt in The Reaper, a mural he painted for the pavilion of the Spanish Republic at the Paris World Exhibition of 1937. He also imbued his pictures of this period, such as the nightmarish Head of a Woman (1938), with a demonic expressiveness that mirrored the fears and horrors of those years.
Mature work and international recognition
During World War II MirÃ³ returned to Spain, where he painted Constellations (1941), a series of small works scattered with symbols of the elements and the cosmos, expressing the happy collaboration of everything creative. During the last year of the war (1944), MirÃ³, together with his potter friend JosÃ© LlorÃ©ns Artigas, produced ceramics with a new impetuosity of expression: their vessels were often intentionally misshapen and fragmented.
Beginning in 1948, MirÃ³ once again divided his time between Spain and Paris. That year he began a series of very poetic works based on the combined themes of woman, bird, and star. In 1949 and 1950 he created some paintings that were wildly spontaneous in character, while executing others with punctilious craftsmanship. He used both approaches in his increasingly large sculptures, amalgamating all of his earlier figurations to form erotic fetishes or signals towering into space.
In the years following World War II MirÃ³ became internationally famous; his sculptures, drawings, and paintings were exhibited in many countries. He was commissioned to paint a number of murals, notably for the Terrace Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio (1947), and for Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1950). His ceramic experiments culminated in the two great ceramic walls in the UNESCO building in Paris (1958), for which he received the Great International Prize of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. In 1962 Paris honoured MirÃ³ with a major exhibition of his collected works in the National Museum of Modern Art. The Catalan architect JosÃ© Luis Sert built for him the large studio of which he had dreamed all of his life on Majorca. Among his later works were several monumental sculptures, such as those he executed for the city of Chicago (unveiled 1981) and for the city of Houston (1982).
In spite of his fame, however, MirÃ³, a taciturn, introverted man, continued to devote himself exclusively to looking and creating. His art had developed slowly from his first clumsy attempts at expression to the apparently playful masterpieces of his later period. In his late works MirÃ³ employed an even greater simplification of figure and background; he sometimes created a composition merely by setting down a dot and a sensitive line on a sea-blue surface, as in Blue II (1961). The whimsical or aggressive irony of his earlier work gave way to a quasi-religious meditation. In 1980, in conjunction with his being awarded Spainâ€™s Gold Medal of Fine Arts, a plaza in Madrid was named in MirÃ³â€™s honour.