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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This Catalan artist was a highly skilled draughtsman who produced thousands of drawings during his career, across a variety of different materials. Many were iterative series for planned paintings, whilst others stand alone as independent artworks.

Due to the political and economic instability found in Europe during the first half of the 20th century, Joan Miro did not always have access to unlimited art supplies or a purpose built studio. He would frequently need to adjust his working practises in line with the resources that he had available at the time but as he entered his later years this became less of an issue. Drawing would then fit into most circumstances and enable him to experiment with different ideas from a theoretical sense. Most of his paintings also required consider series of study sketches that would slowly build up detail as he became more certain on his chosen path for each composition.

Within the realm of drawing there are a large number of different techniques plus combinations of them. Miro was particularly experimental and so would take on a large number of these different options. As such, the artworks found here go far beyond just the pen or graphite sketches that most will think of first. When we study the finest collection of Miro drawings, which is to be found at the Fundació Joan Miró, the majority make use of graphite pencil and charcoal in a single dark colour. Many of the pieces from the early 20th century are studies of landscape scenes, suggesting that he was not always obsessed with modern art and certainly understood the importance of learning the traditional art techniques, even if he would move away from the movements in which they were intially involved.

Miro chose to produce a series of nude studies and other figurative drawings in Indian ink and sepia on paper around 1915, moving on from the earlier landscape studies that occurred up to around 1910. Hundreds of these are in the foundation's collection, with many more presumably lost or destroyed over the years. He would continue to produce figurative studies up to 1919 in a more simpler ink on paper. Their own selection of his drawings then jumps abruptly to 1948 which suggests that batches of work was gifted to the foundation but with many produced in between being lost or sold elsewhere. The work from the late 1940s was illustrative work alongside poetry, which again underlines the versatility of this creative Catalan.

Miro's most famous paintings have, invariably, been accompanied by a number of study drawings that have allowed us to understand more about his processes of production. His series titled Dutch Interior in the late 1920s is one example of this, where he would take a painting from the Dutch Golden Age and then reduce it down to the most abstract and simplest of shapes. Those particular pieces were gifted by the artist to MoMA in New York, which also holds an exceptional collection of his work. This series of drawings offers an extraordinary insight into how a 20th modern artist took a traditional painting and slowly morphed it into a surrealist, bright artwork ready for more modern tastes. He continued this throughout many of his other more significant artworks and the Miro Catalogue Raisonne helps to draw some of these related artworks together.

There has been a widening of focus on the major artists of the 20th century in recent years, with many institutions offering exposure of their work outside of painting, bringing in some of their achievements in other mediums. This has allowed us to get a better understanding of their overall oeuvre as well as allowing exhibitions to be more easily set up, from being able to extract work from a much wider number of sources. This has been done for Picasso, with a focus on his ceramics and sculptures, as well as with Miro and his own drawings and sculptures. In some cases, a mixture of mediums is offered for the benefit of interest and to be more inclusive within the individual exhibition. Thankfully, Miro's career is full of thousands of different artworks which provides curators with an almost unrivalled number of options, with them spread between private and public collections.

The Musée National d’Art Moderne pulled together the largest exhibition of Miro's drawings with around 500 included in a huge display in 1978. It would be hard to achieve that figure today with many having changed hands into private collections as well as the fact that few exhibitions are ever that large today. They tend to balance small displays of work alongside their permanent selection of work in other rooms. Most other displays of his work since then have focused predominantly on his paintings, sometimes focusing on a small period of significance in his lfe. It would also be hard to summarise his entire selection of drawings because of the large number of them plus also the variety which spans right across his lifetime. It makes more sense to introduce followers to a particular phase in his career, particularly where he was so productive over a long period.

Some of Miro's artwork has become fairly affordable thanks to the production of limited edition lithographs of some of his automated drawings. They have taken up a huge share of his private sales and fill a gap somewhere between buying original paintings for hundreds of thousands of pounds and ordering simple art print reproductions from an online retailer. Fernand Mourlot, a friend of Miro's, was behind this production and they made use of Miro's tendancy to work without thought on occasion. This was called 'automatic' drawing and seemed popular with those who wanted to look directly into the mind of this creative genius, but at an affordable price. Limited edition lithographs have also been made from a number of other notable Spanish artists such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali and help to reach out beyond the exclusive reserves of the rich and famous towards the general public.