As recounted by Joan Punyet Miró in the exhibition catalogue Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, Story of a Friendship, held in 2017, the two artists met in 1920 when the 27-year-old Miró visited Picasso in his studio on rue de la Boétie in Paris.
At the time, Picasso was married to Olga Khokhlova and was already a highly renowned artist. Aged 40, he had abandoned cubism (although returning to it on occasions in the future) in favour of a classical style that some termed ‘ingresque’, a style which years later he would deploy for much of the Suite Vollard.
Miró held his first exhibition at the Galerie Licorne in Paris in 1921 where Picasso purchased the famous Self-portrait of 1919, a work he kept for the rest of his life.
The two artists moved in similar circles as did the painters, writers and poets who formed a large international community in Paris, although Miró gradually affiliated himself with the surrealist and Dada groups through his friendship with Pablo Gargallo, who had a studio at 45, rue Blomet.
There, Miró would have met André Masson, Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, Tristan Tzara, Antonin Artaud and Michel Leiris, among others.
In 1925, and influenced by this cultural context, Miró produced a series of painting-poems, and his work came to be seen as one of the clearest examples of pictorial surrealism.
Both were witnesses to the human drama experienced by Spain at this time, which would take Miró into internal exile and Picasso into a life-long exile
While not a surrealist himself, during this period Picasso also produced various works, such as The Dance (1928) in which surrealist elements are certainly present.
In 1928, Picasso met the young Marie-Thérèse Walter on the street at a time when his marriage to Olga seemed to be over. This new encounter brought fresh life to the artist and his work became filled with heads and bodies of a primitive type which he translated into sculpture, a discipline that he returned to at this period, along with printmaking. Two years later, he began to print the series of images that make up the Suite Vollard.
For his part, Miró experienced a spiritual and emotional crisis from which he would emerge when he met Pilar Juncosa, whom he would marry on October 12, 1929.
Picasso and Miró remained in touch during these years, of which 1936 was a tragic one for Spain with General Francisco Franco’s uprising against the Republican government, leading to the Civil War.
Miró and Picasso exhibited alongside each other the following year in the Spanish Republic Pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris.
Miró showed his large-format painting The Reaper, while Picasso exhibited the Guernica. Also on display in the same pavilion were the large sculpture by Alberto Sánchez (1895-1962) entitled The Spanish People have a Path that leads to a Star (1937); La Montserrat (1936-37) by Julio González; and Mercury Fountain (1937) by Alexander Calder, among other works.
Picasso and Miró attended the inauguration. Both were witnesses to the human drama experienced by Spain at this time, which would take Miró into internal exile when he moved to Palma de Mallorca in 1940, during the years of the dictatorship, and Picasso into a life-long exile given that he moved to France and never returned to Spain.
Picasso and Miró: The Flesh and the Spirit is being organised by Fundación Mapfre in collaboration with the Office of the President of Malta and Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, and is open to the public from April 7 till June 30 at the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta.
Leyre Bozal Chamoro is curator of Collections at Fundación Mapfre.
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