On 11 June the International Surrealist Exhibition opened at the New Burlington Galleries in London.

A black and white photograph of Diana Brinton-Lee, Salvador Dalí (in diving suit), Rupert Lee, Paul Éluard, Musch Éluard, ELT Mesens at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London (1936).

Diana Brinton-Lee, Salvador Dalí (in diving suit), Rupert Lee, Paul Éluard, Musch Éluard, ELT Mesens at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London (1936)

© Tate Archive

The organisers were the French Surrealists André Breton and Paul Eluard, together with the English surrealists Roland Penrose and David Gascoyne.

The Belgian Surrealist E.L.T. Mesens intervened at the last moment to mix up the display, setting big works against small, mixing up the artists and creating an overall atmosphere rather than a series of individual displays. Miró travelled to London for the event, and there saw ten of his own paintings and nearly as many drawing and collages on display - the most substantial contribution besides those of his friends Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy. The yellow Head of a Catalan Peasant 1924 (now again in London for the current exhibition) is easily recognised in the installation photographs of the exhibition.

Joan Miró, 'Head of a Catalan Peasant' 1925

Joan Miró
Head of a Catalan Peasant 1925
Oil on canvas
support: 920 x 732 x 26 mm frame: 1187 x 999 x 91 mm
Purchased jointly with the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art with assistance from the Art Fund, the Friends of the Tate Gallery and the Knapping Fund 1999© Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

View the main page for this artwork

This was Miró’s first visit to London and he does not seem to have witnessed the most notorious event: Salvador Dalí’s lecture delivered from inside a diving suit (to ‘plunge deeper into the subconscious’). Dalí­ nearly suffocated. Characteristically, Dalí was less demonstrative and he does not appear in any of the photographs of the events. Like many tourists he sent postcards of the National Gallery and the Tower of London. He also became friendly with Roland Penrose who would bring him to London again in 1964 on the occasion of the major exhibition of Miró’s work in 1964.

Matthew Gale is head of displays at Tate Modern and co-curator of Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape, at Tate Modern.

Comments

Phil

Thanks Noel. You've got me thinking about getting deeper into some of the things I simply couldn't give the focus to as I'd have wished. The Barcelona series really got to me on my first viewing/ visit. In the end, particularly with the later work, I was convinced that a single visit was insufficient. I'm unsure if and when I might get back for another 'dose'! It certainly warrants it.

Phil

The exhibition really surprised me in a hugely positive way. Surrealism in Miro's hands took on a whole new meaning of addressing what it means to live in a politically and culturally stifling time fraught with distortions and repression: an allegory of how each of us relates to the 'world' run by ego-crazed politicians (dictators), bankers (exploiters) and milititarists (Not the Answer!). Miro spoke to something far deeper in me than I ever expected. The sequencing of the exhibition and the richness of the exhibits worked so well I simply have to pay at least one other visit. I am banging on about it to as many friends who are prepared to listen! Thanks for a really memorable display!

Noel

His best work, like the Barcelona series, powerfully coveys the effects of totalitarian systems on individuals, both in power and those they oppress. But too much of his work, particularly from the 1950s onwards, is a confused jumble of unresolved ideas. The paintings illustrating his reactions to abstract impressionism are really mediocre. Maybe this erratic quality reflects and ongoing turmoil Miro may have felt on returning to Spain in the 1940s? Who knows? Or maybe it's deeper-an artist who lacks the skills to give full force to the profound ideas he is looking to convey? The latter is my view-but the exhibition was wonderful-and Miro was a man who understood the relationship between art and freedom in a very profound way. He wasn't an artist of the first rank-but he was clearly a man of enormous intellect and substance, and this is much more important at the end of the day. More thought provoking ehibitions like this one!!!!

Frances

I really enjoyed the exhibition. I especially enjoy the symbolism in Mito's work but prefer his earlier work of the peasants on the fields.

Subversive Brighton

I was totally blown away by the exhibition. His depiction of the emotional turmoil created by the struggle between fascism and totalitarianism and the fight for freedom, first for Catalonia against Franco and then against Hitler were extremely powerful. His graphic use of symbols and the detail in is earlier paintings was beautiful and powerful. Even at the age of 80, when his sight and skills must have been diminished, he produced the burnt paintings reflecting his revolutionary approach to reflecting meaning. Fantastic. An experience not to be missed.

Clive Whitburn

Seeing so many of Miró's works organised chronologically in this way really added to my understanding of how his abstraction developed and the significance of the political struggle. Seeing works grouped together in this way also made me much more aware of his use of colour. Great exhibition.

Linda

I, too, was impressed with the exhibition, with the art works and with the layout and individual room displays.
I was drawn particularly to Miro's earlier works, to which I was unfamiliar and found the room introductions useful and interesting concerning his political beliefs.

Brad

I loved the exhibition. His work brings so much pleasure to me that I'm stilling smiling 24 hours later.

Moyra Beverton

I very much enjoyed the exhibition. Much of what I saw was thought provoking, making me realise that I didn't understand as much of what Miro was trying to achieve as I would like to. It made me want to go away and read more about Catalunya and its history. It seemed that Miro had created his own language of symbols. I loved the chronology of the exhibition which gave an amazing feel of an artist's life works.

Phil

The exhibition really surprised me in a hugely positive way. Surrealism in Miro's hands took on a whole new meaning of addressing what it means to live in a politically and culturally stifling time fraught with distortions and repression: an allegory of how each of us relates to the 'world' run by ego-crazed politicians (dictators), bankers (exploiters) and milititarists (Not the Answer!). Miro spoke to something far deeper in me than I ever expected. The sequencing of the exhibition and the richness of the exhibits worked so well I simply have to pay at least one other visit. I am banging on about it to as many friends who are prepared to listen! Thanks for a really memoriable display!

Mike Caldon

I really loved the Miró exhibition which completely changed the way I thought about his work. I'd always thought of him (in my ignorance) as a bit of a lightweight but I found the Tate exhibition a revelation. Fantastic! I've recommended it to all my friends.