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

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 517 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

Notice how the paint seems to soak into the canvas in some places and rest on the surface in others. Joan Miró poured, brushed, and flung the paint, leaving some of the marks up to chance. On top of that uneven layer of paint, he added lines and shapes. Can you find a kite, a shooting star, and a balloon? What other shapes do you see? Miró named this painting The Birth of the World. If this were your painting, what would you call it?

Kids label from 2019
Additional text

Miró painted this towering canvas in summer or fall of 1925 at his family’s farm in Montroig, a small village nestled between the mountains and coast of his native Catalonia. He was buoyed by the success of his recent exhibition in Paris, where he had been feted by many of the young poets and painters associated with the Surrealist movement. Their signatures emblazoned his exhibition’s invitation, claiming Miró as one of their own. The question after he returned to Spain was what he would do next. The Birth of the World is one of his answers.

With this work, Miró went, to quote a favorite Surrealist dictum, “beyond painting,” with “painting” understood to be his own past work and Western artistic tradition. He jettisoned the rules of perspective that painters had used since the Renaissance to construct illusionistic pictorial space, and instead he covered the ground of his vast canvas with an astonishing variety of abstract painterly incidents: spatters, smears, stains, drips, cascades, bursts, smudges, explosions, spurts, and diaphanous washes vie for attention with a series of minimal motifs that are as much drawn as painted. The result was a new and radically unconstrained form of painting that Miró would later describe as “a sort of genesis,” and that his Surrealist poet friends titled The Birth of the World.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

Joan Miró said that The Birth of the World depicts “a sort of genesis”—the amorphous beginnings of life. To make this work, Miró poured, brushed, and flung paint on an unevenly primed canvas so that the paint soaked in some areas and rested on top in others. Atop this relatively uncontrolled application of paint, he added lines and shapes he had previously planned in studies. The bird or kite, shooting star, balloon, and figure with white head may all seem somehow familiar, yet their association is illogical.

Describing his method, Miró said, “Rather than setting out to paint something I began painting and as I paint the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush.… The first stage is free, unconscious. But, he continued, “The second stage is carefully calculated.” The Birth of the World reflects this blend of spontaneity and deliberation.

Oil on canvas
8' 2 3/4" x 6' 6 3/4" (250.8 x 200 cm)
Acquired through an anonymous fund, the Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Slifka and Armand G. Erpf Funds, and by gift of the artist
Object number
© 2024 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Painting and Sculpture

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Provenance Research Project

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The artist
René Gaffé (1887-1968), Brussels and Cagnes-sur-Mer. Acquired from the artist c. 1926 - 1968
Jane Gaffé (Jane Labie, Mrs René Gaffé), Cagnes-sur-Mer. Inherited from her husband, November 1968 - 1972
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased from Mrs. René Gaffé, Cagnes-sur-Mer, October 1972

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