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Joan Miró, Deux oiseaux de proie (detail), May 29, 1973
Joan Miró, Constellations, 1959


You are familiar with Joan Miró as one of the greatest 20th century artists, with his imaginative visual worlds and powerful colors. But do you also know his large formats? Are you aware of his fascination with walls, both inside and outside? Of his experiments with unusual materials? The SCHIRN exhibition PAINTING WALLS, PAINTING WORLDS gives you an opportunity to discover a side to Miró that previously was scarcely known – about 50 in some cases monumental works from important museums and private collections all over the world.

I want to assassinate painting.

Joan Miró

A murderer and his motive

At an early date Joan Miró developed the wish to put an end to conventional painting. In 1927 the always perfectly clad young man announced in public: “I want to assassinate painting.” The public was incensed, until it became clear what his motivation was.

Miró was intent on no less than overthrowing a tradition he abhorred. A radically reduced pictorial idiom and a large number of experiments were the tools he chose for the deed. There was no overlooking the traces he left: He varied the pictorial grounds, ploughed through materials like a farmer cultivating his fields. His preoccupation with textures led him to adopt ever larger formats, which went as far as monumental murals. The young Catalan who had sallied forth to murder painting was in the opinion of those that came later to become one of the rejuvenators of modern art, and one who never ceased joyfully experimenting.

Joan Miró around 1930, photographed by Man Ray

The entire world in a single image

Unlike his Surrealist companions, Miró found it easy to forgo life in the pulsating metropolis of Paris.

He at times withdrew to the remote rural community of Mont-roig del Camp, where his family had a farm since 1911. From carefully observing plain walls he created a microcosm that was to become a key image for his later artistic development: “The Farm” (1921-22). Here we can discern Miró’s concern with the properties of materials and textures as well as the trend toward abstraction. These were his first steps into a trailblazing form of painting that was later to emerge as his trademark.

Joan Miró, La Ferme, 1921/22

The magic of the pri­mor­dial

One could be forgiven believing that the enigmatic scenes, figures and objects in his painting “The Farm” refer to the Surrealist concern with dreams and the unconscious. While this environment most certainly influenced Miró it was not the source of his inspiration: He discovered the themes on his family’s farm. The figures and objects are arranged individually in the pictorial space and do not overlap. Moreover, within the garden geometrical forms recur – here the artist turns his back on the world of the visible and departs into a poetic world of symbols.

You never forget the first wall

With the excess of details Miró presents the façade of the farmyard as a compositional counterweight to the bustle in the chicken pen.

It is marked with tears, the plaster is flaking and is covered with weeds and mosses. The extreme attention to these structures reveals not only Miró’s rational and ordering creative mind, but also his affinity for materials and structures. The artist devotes himself to the details, and they become an important creative element of his composition.

“One must become an international Catalan” (Joan Miró)

At the beginning of the 20th century, intellectuals, writers and artists sought to strengthen Catalonia’s cultural identity. Art was to remain true to its Mediterranean heritage. Although Miró felt tied to his home country, he did not wish to let the movement absorb him and increasingly became an outsider. His first exhibition in Barcelona 1918 left viewers perplexed and was savaged by the reviewers. After this failure, it was clear to Miró that to advance his painting he would have to leave his beloved home country and become an “international Catalan”. Curious about modern French art in all its variants, his next destination was Paris.

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Joan Miró in a letter to Arxiu Ricart of July 18, 1920.

A poetic vision

Joan Miró, Peinture, summer 1936

Head over heels into the world of symbols

As early as the 1920s, Miró continued to advance his own language of images and symbols. Elements already hintend in “The Farm” were developed quite radically a few years later.

In his own language he described an inner world, bright and inexplicable, in defiance of the chaotic times he lived in.

From 1926 onwards Miró regularly changed homes, moving between Paris, Mont-roig and Barcelona. Cultural, domestic and political upheavals as well as aspirations for regional autonomy shaped the face of Spanish society during this epoch. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 Miró first withdrew to Mont-roig, where he started working on Masonite woodchip panels, and then he went back to Paris.

Joan Miró, Peinture, summer 1936

New old worlds of images

A balmy summer’s night

On a brownish ground a woman walks through the night, past a tree. As a linear figure, her shape stands out in the foreground. She is formed from a broad triangular base that culminates in a yellow head. Eyes and hair are discernible. Oval shapes, connected by a vertical line, emulate natural shapes and merge to form the tree in the left middle of the picture. Behind it, crossed lines and a semi-circle provide the stars of night. It becomes evident that the Surrealist but nonetheless concrete painting style Miró used in the 1920s had become a symbolic language in his 1936 work “Painting”.

Enigmatic shapes

Realistic details have become abstract entities. A circle constitutes the eye and alludes to the head of the woman in profile. Lines indicate hair. The line of the horizon has disappeared and the pictorial space blends into the surface.

The scene is evidently imaginary. Viewers are expected to use their imagination to create a woman walking in summer from these abstract shapes and symbols.

Joan Miró, Paysan catalan à la guitare, 1924

Timeless symbols of rural life

With a few lines, Miró sketches a Catalan farmer in his peasant garb.

Against the blue ground, two black, crossed lines form a human figure. At the lower end, the line has more of a curve and turns into a rounded shape to which two legs have been added. A red Barretina, the traditional headgear of Catalan men, indicates the head. We can intuit a pipe in his right hand and a string instrument in the left.

Thematically speaking, Miró remains faithful to his rural roots. Recurrent symbols for plants, human and animal figures or constellations of stars are universal and timeless. They form the core of a symbolic language that highlights primordial human experiences, the simplicity of which is already to be senses in cave paintings.

Joan Miró, Drapeau espagnol, 1925

A painter shows his colors

The painting “Spanish Flag” (1925) expresses Miró’s patriotism.

The arrangement of the colors red/yellow/red clearly stands for the Spanish flag. Otherwise, Miró’s pictorial language here is not readily decipherable. Some elements are so simple and universally valid that almost anyone can associate something with them. Yet many of the other symbols obey only a logic of their own.

Joan Miró, Tête de Femme, 1939

Twixt Heaven and Earth

The world of the imagination

There’s always space for the viewer in Miró’s imaginary worlds full of signs and symbols. The artist did not tell stories; rather, completely detached from an all-encompassing narration, he placed primal-seeming symbols in the pictorial space: Woman, night, tree. This way he also gave the viewer scope for free associations, ideas, and possibilities for interpretation. Miró’s pictures invite us to think about what we see and draw our own conclusions.

When in 1940, during the Second World War, there were fears that the Germans were about to invade France, Miró returned to Spain and took a studio in Palma de Mallorca. At the time the country was already under Franco’s dictatorship.

I withdrew into myself and the more skeptical I became of my sur­roun­dings, the closer I came to all those places where spirits dwell: trees, mountains, friendship.

Joan Miró

The Meaning of Colors

Joan Miró, Peinture, 1925
Joan Miró, Peinture (La Magie de la couleur), 1930

Radical reduction

A white grounding. Two large patches of color, one yellow, one red. A small black patch. And nothing else?

The piece entitled “The Magic of Color” produced in 1930 is generally regarded as one of Miró’s key works. In the absence of any figurative shapes, we concentrate all the more on the colors, which float towards us like so many differently sized patches. The small black dot emphasizes the impression of space and expanse. At the same time, the viewer is confronted by an emptiness that could stand for infinity. Miró chose the creative elements for his paintings with great restraint: He often exclusively uses primary colors, black lines, reduced shapes. By reducing the pictorial content to colored patches he steps away from the last level of realistic representation.

Joan Miró, Deux oiseaux de proie, May 29, 1973

In Miró’s later piece “Two Birds of Prey” (1973) the painterly means are again reduced to the essentials: Only the black outlines allude to the two birds. Their bodies remain adhered to the surface plane and it is unclear where the one begins and the other ends.

Joan Miró, Peinture (La Magie de la couleur), 1930
Joan Miró, Bleu, 1925

Limitless Blue

An old Mallorquin proverb seems to have been translated into art in the painting simply entitled “Blue”: “It was and it was not.” But is there anything here? Miró has simply dyed the entire surface blue! Not evenly, but with clearly discernible brushstrokes.

The color blue has an important place in Miró’s oeuvre. It occurs frequently, often as a grounding for the pictorial surface. The picture created in 1925 reveals nothing about the artist’s intentions. In an autobiographical note, Miró himself attributed the choice of color to the blue vitriol limewash used for farmyard walls in Catalonia.

One invariably thinks of the sky when seeing a large blue surface. On closer inspection, however, it turns out to have a small error: In the upper left corner there is a small dot, an intentional irritation! In the form of this patch Miró is thinking beyond the confines of traditional painting by alluding to the destruction of the grounding as a creative element in the pictorial space. A hole would expand the flat medium of the painting into the third dimension. This small detail seems, as it were, to pre-empt the works of Lucio Fontana who in the mid-20th century revolutionized the concept of space in painting by actually carefully destroying the medium of the canvas. The reduction of colors is later echoed in the works of an Yves Klein or a Mark Rothko.

If one looks more closely, one can make out a horizontal change in the picture’s surface in the upper third of it. It is almost as if the canvas had had a tear here that someone tried to repair with plaster, as one would do with the wall of a house. Here too, Miró’s works reference walls as a source of inspiration.

Monu­mental formats

Joan Miró, Peinture, 1953

Blue picture grounds [embody] pure painting that arises from the feeling of solitude and despair that incessantly persecutes me.

Joan Miró

Miró makes use of that blue that accompanied him from childhood to create monumental textured backgrounds. On it he placed individual dots and linear elements in red and black.

Between 1961 and 1974 in Mallorca, Miró created a series of tripartite artworks of monumental size in the studio rooms that he had designed especially for the large paintings. Miró always showed a preference for large-size formats. They grant the painter expansive gestures that arise from the free movement of the body. One of the highlights of his long career is the triptych ”Blue I–III”, which confronts the viewer with a truly terrifying emptiness. Its barrenness coupled with the large format exercises a magnetic attraction – one of being literally sucked into the blue surface. The two later artworks “Painting” and “Painting I–III” further intensify this reduction.

Wall or space?

Miró often painted large pictorial formats as triptychs or tripartite images. The artist thus placed them in a Christian tradition and emphasized their monumental nature. The large surface they cover on the wall suggest that for the viewer the real space recedes, thus opening up a new imaginary one.

This is particularly apparent in the three “Painting” works made in 1973: The piece moves on the one hand in two dimensions through the pictorial space presented in black and white. The impression is underscored by the dripping traces of paint that always point to the image’s character as a painting. On the other, the viewer invariably sees a landscape sharply abstract in terms of shapes and colors – and thus a three-dimensional space. With the interaction of wall and space, Miró takes part in introducing abstract painting into three dimensions – one of the central themes of 20th century art.

All about the mural

Joan Miró, Femmes et oiseaux (detail), 1945

Painting has since the cave age been in a state of decadence.

Joan Miró

The wall as model

The wall is one of the oldest-ever media for images. Long before people developed the first written letters they covered cave walls with paintings, drawings and lines.

Miró and Josep Llorens Artigas studying prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira

The wall exerted a special fascination on Miró. The surface on which time had left its mark, with tears, weeds, flaking plaster and faded paint was to influence his oeuvre greatly. A wall could be something old, weather-beaten, and imperfect. He was magnetized by the beauty of decay and tried to imbue his paintings with the haptic properties and texture of wall surfaces. He thus mixed paints with sand, plaster, straw or cement to give the surface as textured a quality as possible. He considered mistakes to be quite desirable in this regard: He once told a gallerist that it was not a problem if during transportation some of the material should detach itself from the paintings as they then resembled walls even more. In 1935-6 he made three pieces entitled “Signs and Figurations”. They depict fishes, stars, figures and other forms reduced to black contours. Miró used thinned oil paint for this purpose, applying it to sandpaper steeped in tar. As a result, the paintings had the feel of graffiti on the plaster of a house wall.

It’s the material that counts […]. It’s the material that defines everything.

Joan Miró

Miró in his studio working on a ceramic mural.

Experiments in ceramics

In the years 1955–59 Miró dedicated himself exclusively to ceramics, as part of which he created remarkable wall paintings with tiles. The “Wall of the Moon” and the almost 15-meter-long “Wall of the Sun” for the UNESCO HQ in Paris were the first of a series of large-format wall pieces for public spaces.

Miró often started working on his ceramic wall pictures with vague, very small sketches. One exception: the two walls in the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. For them, true-to-scale paper drafts have survived that give a clear impression of the finished pieces. On the floor of his studio Miró transposed these ideas onto the tiles – laid out in the size of the finished wall. These were then fired once to permanently fix the colors, and then a second time in order to give the surface a uniform glaze. The final colors only emerged after the firing, so that the ceramic pieces always involved an element of surprise. Miró considered these pieces as artistic collective efforts: He always worked with his life-long friend, the master ceramics maker Josep Llorens Artigas and his son Joan Gardy Artigas.

“The boy will go far”

Joan Miró never ever rested on his laurels. This shows a quote from the world famous, then 85-year-old artist in which he with a smile ironically calls himself a boy. In all phases of his life Miró created masterpieces because he took to new means on expression the way a duck takes to water. Embark on a voyage of discovery through the SCHIRN exhibition, where the large-format pieces and wall paintings will offer you a new angle on Miró’s art – over and above his famous, brightly colored dream-like paintings, which are admired the world over.

Personal hint

Joan Miró, Tête de Georges Auric, 1929

Which one can only glean from the original:


Many of the details of Miró’s treatment of surfaces cannot be reproduced by digital means on-screen. Making it very worthwhile to view the materials as they appear in the originals – in the SCHIRN exhibition. This is especially true of the “Head of Georges Auric”, made in 1929.

The portrait of the French composer is formally speaking reduced the vey minimum of lines required to draw his profile. It seems to consist solely of black and beige-colored surfaces. However, if you look at it close up you soon see that the black background and the massive eye rest as thick mass on the backing. The whole is a collage of paper and tar supplemented with a few lines in black ink.

The work was produced in a phase in the late 1920s and early 1930s when Miró was experimenting with unusual materials in order to overcome conventional painting. With his ceramic tile pictures he later sought to liberate art from the constraints of easels. Miró created a three-dimensional form of the traditional two-dimensional painting.



Go straight into the exhibition without waiting!


Opening hours, getting to us, guided tours, and much more besides – all at a glance


While you enjoy the exhibition, the children can make their very own discoveries!


Spoken by Johanna Wokalek


Learn more about Mirós old Studio in La Palma de Mallorca


The richly illustrated exhibiRon catalog about Miró wall painRngs with an essay by Joan Punyet Miró


The digitorial is kindly supported by
Digitorial design and programming:
Scholz & Volkmer


Deux oiseaux de proie, 29 May, 1973: © Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Constellations, 1959: © Private collection. Foto: Gabriel Ramon; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

La Ferme, 1921/22: © National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture, 1936: © Nahmad Collection, Switzerland; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture, summer 1936: © Nahmad Collection, Schweiz; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Paysan catalan à la guitare, 1924: © Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Drapeau espagnol, 1925: © Private collection Switzerland. Foto: Peter Schälchli, Zürich; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Tête de Femme, 1939: © Nahmad Collection, Switzerland; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture, 1925: © Private collection; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture (La Magie de la couleur), 1930: © The Menil Collection, Houston. Foto: Hickey-Robertson; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Bleu, 1925: © Foto: Galerie Maeght, Paris; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture, 1953: © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Bleu I–III, 4 March, 1961: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais. Fotos: Philippe Migeat; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture I, 27 July, 1973: © Archivio Fotografico Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture II, 27 July, 1973: © Archiv Successió Miró; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture III, 27 July, 1973: © Archivio Fotografico Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Femmes et oiseaux, 1945: © Würth Collection; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture, around 1973: © Arxiu Fotogràfic de la Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca. Foto: Joan Ramon Bonet & David Bonet; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Peinture, around 1973: © Arxiu Fotogràfic de la Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca. Foto: Joan Ramon Bonet & David Bonet; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

Peinture, 1974: © Arxiu Fotogràfic de la Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca. Foto: Joan Ramon Bonet & David Bonet; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Signes et figurations, 31 December, 1935: © Private collection; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Signes et figurations, 1936: © Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Signes et figurations, 1936: © Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Mur du soleil (Maquette Mur de l’UNESCO), around 1957: © Arxiu Fotogràfic de la Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca. Foto: Joan Ramon Bonet & David Bonet; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Tête de Georges Auric, 1929: © Kunsthaus Zürich; Successió Miró/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.


Man Ray: Joan Miró, around 1930: © MAN RAY TRUST/ ADAGP/ Telimage – 2016/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Miró and Josep Llorens Artigas studying prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira, March 1957: © Fotoarchiv F. Català-Roca – Arxiu Fotogràfic de L’Arxiu Historic Col•legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya.

Miró in his studio producing a ceramic mural, 1971/72: © Fotoarchiv F. Català-Roca – Arxiu Fotogràfic de L’Arxiu Historic Col•legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya.

Further photographs: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt.


Quoted from the exhibition catalog „Joan Miró“. Hg.: Kunsthaus Zürich; Zürich 1986; S. 27. Recording: 4-Real Intermedia GmbH, Offenbach, 2015.


“I want to murder painting”: quoted from the exhibition catalog „Joan Miró. Mauer – Fries – Wandbild“. Hg.: Kunsthaus Zürich; Munich: 2015; S. 17.

“I have withdrawn into myself […]”: quoted from Janis Mink: „Miró“; Cologne: 1993; S. 17.

“Blue backgrounds […]”: quoted from the exhibition catalog „Joan Miró. Mauer – Fries – Wandbild“. Hg.: Kunsthaus Zürich; Munich: 2015; S. 38.

“Painting is […]”: quoted from the exhibition catalog „Joan Miró. Mauer – Fries – Wandbild“. Hg.: Kunsthaus Zürich; Munich: 2015; S. 52.

“It’s the material […]”: quoted from M. Rowell (Hg.): „Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews”; London: 1987; S. 219.