The Barcelona Series is made up of fifty lithographs, printed in stark black during the summer of 1944 (in Barcelona, hence the name).
It is difficult to say if it is one work or 50. Each is individual but, at the same time, it is the cumulative effect that makes up the work as a whole. It is for this reason that we have borrowed Miró’s own copy of the prints from the Fundació Joan Miró.
He only printed seven of each image, of which he kept back one for himself and one for his friend and publisher Joan Prats. Even this very small print-run was a major undertaking because, with 50 plates, it required at least 350 sheets of paper (more, if you include test proofs). At a time of austerity, with Spain virtually cut off from war-torn Europe, this was rather a remarkable thing to be doing.
The prints act as a thread through three adjacent rooms in the exhibition (Rooms 5-7), reflecting how they were first planned around 1939 and matured over five years. They are extraordinary: huge-headed figures are both comical and bewildered, some threatening and some threatened, endlessly complex and challenging.
Matthew Gale is head of displays at Tate Modern and co-curator of Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape.