An iconic work that gauges Miró’s confrontation of the catastrophe of the Spanish Civil War is Still-Life with Old Shoe.
In later life he saw Still-Life with Old Shoe as his Guernica and this makes it essential for our understanding of his engagement with the politics of his time. He worked on the painting from 29 January to 24 May 1937 while he was in Paris. He had realised that, unlike his usual shorter trips of a few weeks or months, this would make become an extended one. Just before starting on the still-life he wrote, ‘We are living through a terrible drama, everything happening in Spain is terrifying in a way you would never imagine.’
Feeling uprooted and nostalgic for home, he set about arranging an apple with a fork, a piece of bread, a bottle of gin and an old shoe on a table. With these simple elements he wanted to ‘push painting to the limit’, intending the work to stand up to comparison with the great seventeenth-century master Velázquez. At the same, his own dire personal circumstances of lack of food and cash-strapped existence in exile exacted their toll on him. The resulting painting is an extraordinary canvas of lurid, neon colours against ominous black shapes utterly unprecedented in modern art. An acid trip caused by worry, uncertainty and hunger? ‘No sentimentalism,’ Miró said, ‘Realism that is far from being photographic … Profound and fascinating reality.’
Marko Daniel is co-curator of Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape, Tate Modern