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On view  |  Painting and Sculpture I, Gallery 10, Floor 5

Joan Miró. The Birth of the World. Montroig, late summer-fall 1925

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Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893–1983)

The Birth of the World

Montroig, late summer-fall 1925
Oil on canvas
8' 2 3/4" x 6' 6 3/4" (250.8 x 200 cm)
Credit Line:
Acquired through an anonymous fund, the Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Slifka and Armand G. Erpf Funds, and by gift of the artist
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Audio Program excerpt

MoMA Audio: Collection

, 2008

Curator, Anne Umland: Miró's painting, The Birth of the World, is a combination of chance and careful planning. We know that Miró first worked on this evocative, freely constructed background, and then went back to notebooks, and overlaid, in a very calculated, hard-edged, exacting way, these delineated forms: the black triangle, the red sphere, and this wonderful yellow, thin, cursive, calligraphic line that descends from what has at times been described as a balloon or a spermatozoa. This picture in every sense is about origins, a sort of genesisa birth of a new world.

There is an utter, absolute schism between this background and then these images laid on the top of it. It is the opposite of any unified, continuous space, which is just one of the ways that this picture goes, as the Surrealists were fond of saying, beyond painting. And that is beyond the conventions of painting as they were known in 1925, when Miró painted this absolutely remarkable revolutionary work.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999

According to the first Surrealist manifesto of 1924, "the real functioning of the mind" could be expressed by a "pure psychic automatism," "the absence of any control exercised by reason." Miró was influenced by Surrealist ideas, and said, "Rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting and as I paint, the picture begins to assert itself. . . . The first stage is free, unconscious." But, he added, "The second stage is carefully calculated."

The Birth of the World reflects just this combination of chance and plan. Miró primed the canvas unevenly, so that paint would here sit on the surface, there soak into it. His methods of applying paint allowed varying degrees of control—pouring, brushing, flinging, spreading with a rag. The biomorphic and geometric elements, meanwhile, he drew deliberately, working them out in a preparatory drawing.

Miró's works in this vein suggest something both familiar and unidentifiable, yet even at his most ethereal, Miró never loses touch with the real world: we see a bird, or a kite; a shooting star, a balloon on a string, or a spermatozoa; a character with a white head. The Birth of the World is the first of many Surrealist works that deal metaphorically with artistic creation through an image of the creation of a universe. In Miró's words, it describes "a sort of genesis."

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