Barcelona native Joan Miró is one of the key artists of twentieth century. He created a unique visual language that had a decisive influence on the people of Barcelona and Catalonia; leaving a legacy that still influences people in- and outside the art world today. Follow in his footsteps and see the city of Barcelona through the eyes of the young Miró, part 1.
Born on April 20, 1893 Joan Miró i Ferrà first lives in a small passage way off Carrer de Ferran, Passatge del Crèdit, 4, Barcelona, near Plaça Sant Jaume. Miró’s parents Dolors Ferrá i Oromí (of Majorcan descent) and Miquel Miró Adzerias, a watchmaker and silversmith with his own store in Carrer de Ferran, notice his creative talent from an early age. Joan has an overwhelming urge to be creative, he is always busy making or drawing something. To stimulate his passion for the arts Miró’s parents send him to a private primary school in Carrer del Regomir 13, where the drawing lessons by Mr Civil become the driving force to keep him in school. Miró does not like his formal training much, when asked he describes himself as a poor student.
Also during his secondary school years at Instituto Provincial de Segunda Enseñanza de Barcelona ( Historical Building of the University, Plaça de la Universitat,Barcelona) Miró has a natural tendency to slack off and look for things he found more interesting. He was diagnosed as hyperactive, as he showed a severe lack of concentration in the study. Later he commented on this by saying that he wasn’t the least bit interested in studying; besides being easily distracted, he had difficulties to submit to the required discipline.
To the dislike of his parents Miró drops out of secondary school in the final year. Only 14 years old he leaves formal education without the usual Bachelor degree. What was obvious to Miró, becomes clear to his parents too. Miró desperately wants to be a painter. As his family did not have much confidence in the economic value of the Catalan art market, Miró’s artistic desires were delayed for several years.
Miró’s parents resolve to enrol him in the School of Commerce in Barcelona to brighten his chances. In defiance of his father wishes he registers himself as well at the School of Arts and Crafts and Fine Arts the Llotja, Passeig Isabel II, 1, 08003 Barcelona, where he first studies landscape art with Modest Urgell Inglada (1907-1909) and later decorative arts with Josep Pascó Merisa (1908 to 1910).
In 1909 Santiago Segura opens The Faianç Català (Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 615), a gallery that promotes avant-garde art or “Noucentisme”. Miró often attends exhibitions there. In the Faianç Català slipstream the satirical magazine “Papitu” appears, with illustrations by ‘Apa’ Aragay Gray Junoy, Can, Nonell, Pidelaserra, among others. It became the favourite magazine of Miró and many other Catalan artists.
To please his parents he starts to work in 1910 as an unpaid trainee bookkeeper at the hardware and chemicals firm Establecimientos Dalmau Oliveres (now Edosa) at the junction of Carrer de la Princesa with Vía Laietana, 08003 Barcelona. Very unhappy with his job, Miró falls ill and catches typhoid fever. His family sends him to Mont-roig del Camp in the province of Tarragona, to recuperate, a determining moment in his development as an artist.
On July 20th 1911, he exhibits for the first time a painting at the “VI Exposición Internacional de Arte” in Barcelona organised by Barcelona’s town hall in the (now demolished) Palau de Belles Arts / Museum Palace of Fine Arts on the corner of Passeig de Lluís Companys and Passeig de Pujades. This first exhibition gives Miró the push he needs. He decides to devote himself entirely to painting. In 1912 his parents allow him to attend the Francesc Galí Art School (Carrer de la Cucurulla, 4, 08002 Barcelona) operated by the architect Francesc Gali. Francisco Galí took a liking to Miró and not only became his mentor in modern art, but also installed in Miró a love for the modernist architecture of Barcelona and the buildings of Antoni Gaudí.
Galí saw that Miró was struggling to draw from life and advised him to touch the objects he was about to draw with his eyes shut so he could understand the spatial quality of objects, although Miró’s inability to draw was well compensated by his sense of colour and form. During his whole working life Miró stayed more passionate about colour and discovering form than drawing the academic way. At the Francesc Galí Art School he teams up with Joan Prats, Josep Francesc Ràfols, Enric Cristòfol Ricart.
From 1913 on he also frequents El Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc (Carrer de Montsió, 3, 08002 Barcelona) located in the same building as the former Els Quarte Gats, a cafe, cabaret and a buzzing gathering place in the early 1900s frequented by intellectuals and artists, Picasso among them. Until its closure in 1903 (due to bad financial management) Els Quarte Gats was one of the artistic and cultural epicentres of Barcelona.
In 1916 Miró meets art dealer Josep Dalmau, who shows an interest in his work. Josep Dalmau was a gallery owner and promoter of the arts, but also a visionary who organised international avant-garde exhibitions in his gallery on the Carrer de la Portaferrissa, 18, 08002 Barcelona, a gallery he managed from 1911 to 1923. In the same year Miró rents a studio with Enric Cristòfol Ricart at Carrer de Sant Pere Més Baix, 15, 08003 Barcelona, which they share until 1918.
After a stint in the army, Josep Dalmau puts on Miró’s first solo exhibition at Galeries Dalmau from February 16th-March 3rd 1918. Made up of almost two hundred works, the sixty paintings and around 140 drawings reveal Miró’s Catalan roots and his a special sensibility for colour and volume and eye for reality. “Everything is contained in reality” Miró writes to his friend Ricart.
Unfortunately not one of Joan Miró’s works was sold. The 1918 exhibition was a controversial one and people considered his art work the work of a madman and fool. Later that year he becomes a member of the innovative “Agrupació Courbet”, an artistic group named after the artist Gustave Courbet, formed in 1918 by Josep Llorens Artigas and Josep Francesc Ràfols. United in their quest for renewal in the spirit of modernity the Courbet Group became the precursor of the Catalan avant-garde movement of the twenties.
In 1919 Miró participates in several exhibitions of the Courbet Group in Barcelona, in Galerías Layetanas, Gran Vía de las Cortes Catalanas, 613, de Barcelona and the “Exposició Collectiva de l’Agrupació Courbet” at Palau de Belles Arts on the corner of Passeig de Lluís Companys and Passeig de Pujades. In summer of 1919 he stays in Montroig and plans his trip to Paris, disillusioned by the vicious jokes and attacks on his work. His dream is to succeed as an artist in Barcelona, but he fails in the attempt. Miró realises that Barcelona does not have the right market for his modern, innovative art. He decides to go to Paris and is determined to exhibit in the more cosmopolitan Paris. In 1919 he reaches an agreement with Josep Dalmau to give up all his work in exchange for an exhibition in Paris. The Courbet group dissolves when several members leave for Paris. Agrupació Courbet briefly regroups as Els Especulatius or the Speculators; members include Picasso and Miró.
Late February 1920 he makes his first trip to Paris,“I feel a new world opening up in my mind.” Before he leaves he visits the mother of Picasso, a friend of his mother, who gives him a cake to take to her son. On the 2nd of March 1920 he meets Picasso. Picasso encourages Miró to follow his own path and helps him out whenever he can. He buys his paintings and introduces him to art dealers without much effect. When Josep Dalmau delays the promised exhibition in Paris several times as well, the disappointment is too much for Miró. He returns to Catalonia and Montroig to paint.
In the spring of 1921 it is back to Paris. Josep Dalmau pulls it off this time. Miró’s first one-person show opens on the 29th April at the Gallery La Licorne, in the rue de la Boétie. In spite of some positive reviews, it was a commercial failure. In June Miró returnes to Barcelona and Montroig to begin his most ambitious painting to date, The Farm. Miró’s early masterpiece captivated Ernest Hemingway so much that he wants to buy the work. The story goes that Ernest Hemingway won the right to buy The Farm with a high-stakes game of dice, although the seller Evan Shipman, an American exchange student and a regular at the atelier of Miró at Rue Blomet, only recalls a simple toss of the coin. Hemingway did not win, but a generous Shipman allowed him to buy the work for 3,500 francs (about $175). Hemingway was happy with the purchase and he and Miró remained lifetime friends.
For Miró The Farm represents life and his Catalan roots. “The Farm is a résumé of my entire life in the country. We Catalans believe that if you put your feet firmly on the ground you may jump higher each year. The fact I come down to earth from time to time makes it possible for me to jump higher.”
1. Miró was born here in the attic apartment, Passatge del Crèdit, 4, 08002 Barcelona, now part of the Rialto hotel on Carrer de Ferran, 42.
2. His father had a shop on Carrer de Ferran, 08002 Barcelona
3. School of Arts and Crafts and Fine Arts – the Llotja- Passeig Isabel II, 1, 08003 Barcelona
4. Chemicals firm Establecimientos Dalmau Oliveres (now Edosa) was located at the junction of Carrer de la Princesa with Vía Laietana, 08003 Barcelona.
5. El Palacio de las Bellas Artes or the Palace of Fine Arts was a multipurpose building in Barcelona, located on the corner of Passeig de Lluís Companys and Passeig de Pujades, opposite the Ciudadela Park. Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1888, it was damaged during the civil war and demolished in 1942.
6. Francesc Galí Art School on Carrer de la Cucurulla, 4, 08002 Barcelona can be found near Font de Santa Anna, Barcelona’s oldest fountain built in 1356 and located at the junction between Carrer de Cucurulla and Avinguda del Portal de l’Àngel.
7. Els 4Gats, Carrer de Montsió, 3, 08002 Barcelona. Els 4Gats could be found on the groundfloor of Casa Martí, the modernist building designed by the Barcelona architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Casa Martí still is testament of the modernist movement in Barcelona.
8. El Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc moved to Palau Mercader, its new headquarters in 2009. Parc de Can Mercader, Ctra. de l’Hospitalet, s/n, 08940 Cornellà de Llobregat, Barcelona
9. The Faianç Català , Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 615, 08007 Barcelona, building unfortunately demolished.
10. The gallery of Josep Dalmau was located on Carrer de la Portaferrissa, 18, 08002 Barcelona.
11. Together with Enric Cristòfol Ricart Miró rents a studio at Carrer de Sant Pere Més Baix, 15, 08003 Barcelona.