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Joan Miró and his beginnings in graphic work

The following text refers to Joan Miró’s beginnings as an engraver, focusing on the stages of illustration up to the 1960s. lithographs by Miró explain the importance of the recorded work in his artistic career.

Miró grew up in a family of artisans; his father was a jeweler and his grandfather a blacksmith. This gave the artist a good sense of craftsmanship and an understanding of the materials and tools he used. This fact would allow him to go beyond the techniques and traditions common in graphic printing.

Instead of using materials in a traditional way, Miró used them in a unique way. He did not force them to perform their function in a straightforward way, but expected them to react in unexpected and creative ways. The artist played with the materials, talked with them, as if they were part of a dialogue. His discoveries in the art of printmaking did not come from planned experiments, but from surprise and chance, guided by his incredible intuition with materials.

The creation of art beyond Painting

Joan Miró had a special relationship with the artisans who collaborated in the printing of his engravings. He made them part of the projects, valued their ideas and suggestions and listened to them during the creative process. This way of working was not only with the workers in the engraving workshop, but also with the ceramists, casters, molders and lithographers.

Miró valued teamwork in the processes of creation and printing of graphic work to contrast the solitude of the painting studio. Although this solitude helped him to be creative, the feeling of isolation could be stifling. The artist chose to complement solo work and collaborative teamwork in the creation of the graphic print.

His beginnings in graphic art were due to the fact that he wanted to go beyond painting and explore new art forms. It was thanks to his love for poetry that he became interested in engraving and lithography. In 1930, he made his first lithographs to illustrate“El árbol de los viajeros” and in 1932, he created his first etchings for “Infancias” by the surrealist poet Georges Hugnet. Before he began to illustrate, Miró was already a great reader of modern and surrealist poets, both Spanish and French.

From Rue Blomet to the illustration of poetic books

During his stay in France, Joan Miró joined the group of surrealist artists, his time in rue Blomet in Paris, near André Masson’s studio, was crucial for him. There, he made close friendships with people like Leiris, Limbour, Desnos, Tual, Artaud and Salacrou. With them he had passionate conversations that helped him in his formation as an artist.

Miró devoted much time and effort to illustrating books by poets, more than other artists of his time. His first engraving works were for Beniamin Péret, Georges Hugnet and Alice Paalen. His first illustrated book was “L’Antitète” by Tristan Tzara in 1947.


Etching with pochoir, L’Antitete, year 1947

Until 1939, most of Joan Miró’ s engravings were made in the Marcoussis workshop. An employee of the Lacourière printing house collaborated in the work to print the proofs. At the end of 1932, Miró made three etchings for the book “Infancias” by Georges Hugnet. Before starting to engrave, the process consisted of making the drawing on a piece of paper and then transferring it to the engraving plate with a needle.

These engravings, similar to his drawings of that time, show three characters made practically from a single line, but with some corrections and reinforcements. Two of the engravings show women who seem to be moving, one is near the sea and the other is playing with a crescent moon. The third engraving shows a man as if he were in space, with wings, looking like a conqueror.

The rapid evolution in recording techniques

In 1933, Joan Miró made an engraving called “Daphnis and Chloe” for the magazine “Minotaure“. The publisher wanted a theme related to Greek mythology. Miró drew a scene in the countryside, like the ones he used to imagine. In the drawing, a shepherd plays a musical instrument near a rock, a tree and a goat, and in the background are two naked women and the sea. To make the engraving, he first drew it on paper and then transferred the drawing to a copper plate. He also made an initial sketch on celluloid.


Punta seca, Daphnis and Chloe, 1933.

Miró worked in the Marcoussis workshop until the war began. Thanks to his skill with tools and materials, he quickly became a genuine engraver. The artist remembered those times of apprenticeship with much affection and emotion. In 1938, Roger Lacourière printed some twenty etchings by Miró at Foyatier’s memorable print shop near the Sacré-Cour church on Montmartre hill. There, Miró met his friend Picasso, who was beginning to make color etchings. Picasso suggested to Miró that he use two plates and two colors, which led to the creation of the“Black and Red” series.

black and red etching

Etching, Black and red, year 1938

The etchings and drypoint engravings of that period show his great skill and creative freedom. These works reflect the discoveries that, at the same time, he was making in painting. The prints he made in 1938 show his worries and fears about the Spanish civil war, the rise of fascism and the feeling that a world war was approaching. In the works of that time, Miró expressed these dramas through figurative compositions, characters, colors and shapes, creating distorted images full of tension. The landscapes looked agitated and the animals showed terror and aggressiveness in their forms.

From Artistic Resistance to New York Success

Between 1938 and 1939, many intellectuals and artists, including Picasso, Miró, Mason, Tanguy and Kandinsky, created albums of prints to show their rejection of fascism. During World War II, Miró lived in Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona, isolated and unable to record. However, in New York his fame increased considerably thanks to his art dealer Pierre Matisse, who greatly promoted Mironian art. His fame was established in 1941 with a large exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art and the interest that many young artists felt for his work, artists who would later become important figures of abstract expressionism.

Due to his fame in the United States, Miró was commissioned to do a large mural for a restaurant in a hotel in Cincinnati, and in 1947 he stayed in New York to work on the mural. He divided his time between his rented studio and his recording sessions at the famous Atelier 17, run by Hayter. It was there that he met Jackson Pollock, who would later admit how much he had learned from the Catalan artist.

Mid-twentieth century, exploring freedom in lithography and engraving.

In 1948, while living in Barcelona, Joan Miró took advantage of his trips to Paris to work on lithographs at Mourlot’ s printing house and engravings at Lacourière’s workshop. There he collaborated closely with Jacques Frélaut.

Miró abandoned rigorous and systematic techniques in favor of a more improvised and spontaneous style. He began to treat color differently, using it to animate the surface of his works instead of just following the contours of the drawing. His engravings became more agile and inventive. He added improvised tools to engrave his works, such as old nails, screwdrivers or scissors, and even engraved with his fingers and hands. His strokes became more flexible and varied, and his drawings of characters and signs became clearer and more detailed.

Miró’s friendship with Leiris, which began in rue Blomet in Paris and his time with the surrealists, led to the creation of a book in 1956 edited by Jean Aubier. The series of etchings Miró made for this book were powerful and austere, with a simplified graphic style and backgrounds that seemed eroded by time, reminiscent of cave paintings in prehistoric caves. He used few colors, with large flat discs in red, blue or yellow, like stars in a starry sky.

Maeght. The prints he made there were created at a rapid pace, and the books he illustrated multiplied. For the publisher Louis Broder, he made 29 small etchings.

Aurora’s Ring” is one of his most wonderful series. Each engraving, of small format, was a portrait, a scene, a landscape with figures or a bird in a space full of stars, stars and signs. The color, applied with resin grain, created luminous effects and vigorous sparkles.

In 1953, the poet Pierre-André Benoît began to make and publish very small books, some with only a few pages and limited print runs. Miró collaborated on nine of these books, using drypoint engraved lines or improvised tools. Its figures and signs were simple and direct, printed in a single color.

In Miró’s later works, color was used independently of the lines, sometimes highlighting or contradicting the drawing. Aquatint was often used to create textural effects or to achieve a dense, vibrant drawing. The same happened with the lithographs where the mixture of inks could be appreciated as a background for the figures and signs.

Admosfera Miró

Lithography, Atmósfera Miró, 1959.

Innovation and freedom in large formats

Miró ‘s ability led him to work in larger formats and to be freer in his creations. In the 1960 “Los Gigantes” series, he used plates of more than one meter, something very risky at the time. These plates had holes, spots and random drops on their surface, which then looked blank and a bit puffy in the final etchings.

In that decade, Miró wanted more freedom to create . He sought to break the rules and challenge the laws of art, because he believed that only the surprising and profound would survive.

The giants

Aquatint, Los Gigantes, 1960.

When working with wood planks, he preferred pear or cherry wood, cut along the grain of the wood. For him, a graphic printing plate was any material that could be carved, cut, engraved or marked. For example, in his first book with woodcuts, he used the impression of a crushed sardine can and a needle used to mend fishing nets.

Miró also experimented with colors outside his usual palette, using varied tones and different papers, cut and pasted, bearing images or stickers. In the arrangement of his works, he played with the quantity and distribution of the images.

The array of experimentations in printmaking up to this point gives Miró a favorable vision for creating printmaking works that will leave their mark from the 1960s to the end of his days and endow the artist with a self-taught character for the creation of the famous colorful, large-format prints for which many recognize Miró.

For art lovers and admirers of Joan Miró, one of the icons of surrealism and modern art, we invite you to explore his creative universe. Click on the link to dive into Miró’s graphic work, where you can discover more about his art, delve into his biography and explore unique buying and selling opportunities in our online store.

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