Joan Miro (1893-1983, Spanish) was a Catalonian Surrealist artist born in Barcelona who produced lithographs, sculptures, ceramics and tapestries. Miro started art classes at a young age, and in 1907 enrolled in the fine art academy La Llotja against his father’s wishes. In 1918, he gave his first solo exhibition, which met with unsuccessful reviews and with some of his works being defaced. By 1920, he had moved to Montparnasse and joined the artist community there. Influenced by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne, he also met Picasso and collaborated with Max Ernst. Later Matisse would even represent Miro and introduce his work to the US.
Miro’s works rely primarily on automatic drawing and symbolic, dream-like compositions which would align him to the Surrealist group. His style is anti-bourgeois. Initially, Miro’s works were apolitical; however, in 1937, they changed. With Germany’s invasion of France, Miro moved to Normandy in 1939. And with the eventual invasion of Paris, Miro fled back to Franco’s Spain in 1941.
Miro cannot really be called a true cat lover even though many of his works include felines. An unfortunate story is that Miro had a cat that he accidentally locked into his house and went away for six months. When he came back, he found the cat dead and desiccated with a horrible pain filled face after having died of thirst and hunger. He took the body and hung it up on the kitchen wall seemingly to remind himself of the inevitability of death, or as a reminder of his own neglect. Who can say? Perhaps Miro included cats in his works as a tribute to this poor tortured creature and his own guilt.
In the 1928 painting The Dutch Interiors, Miro borrowed from Jan Steen’s The Dancing Lesson. Miro turns his focus on the human and animal subjects of the painting, and instead of the cat being the central figure, it is swallowed by the movement and enjoyment of the dancing lesson itself which are central.
Miro loved the sky and moon and this is represented in Le Petit Chat au Claire de la Lune, 1951. Many more of his lithographs have cats as their subjects especially those created in 1975.
Ernest Hemingway, who purchased one of Miro’s works, compared him to James Joyce’s Ulysses saying, “It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there. Noone else has been able to paint these two very opposing things.” Miró died on December 25, 1983, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.