Joan Miro The ladder of escape Tate Modern exhibition banner

Room 2

In 1924, the year in which André Breton published the Manifesto of Surrealism, Miró embarked upon an extraordinary series of works featuring the emblematic figure of the Catalan peasant. This room focuses upon the development of the series, partly made in Paris, where Miró spent time with the Surrealists throughout the 1920s.

For Miró, the peasant working the land came to stand for an ageless knowledge that was both natural and particular to the place – a sign, in a sense, of identity. The Head of a Catalan Peasant reduces this archetypal figure to a simple arrangement of signs. A triangular head, strands of beard and the barretina (a traditional red cap) are combined with a stick figure. Miró set these elements against the vivid blues of sky and imagination, creating some of the most radical paintings to be made within the orbit of Surrealism.

While the Catalan peasant can be seen as a displaced self-portrait, the series may also have been an act of defiance. In 1923 Miguel Primo de Rivera staged a military coup in Spain. The centralisation of power was essential to his dictatorship and one consequence was the suppression of Catalan autonomy and limitations on the use of the Catalan language. Miró’s series celebrates a cultural identity under siege.