Joan Miro The ladder of escape Tate Modern exhibition banner

Room 6

After the fall of Barcelona and Madrid in the early months of 1939, General Franco’s Nationalist armies controlled Spain. The end of the Civil War marked the beginning of a dictatorship that lasted until Franco’s death in 1975. For Miró, like so many in exile, the new regime represented ‘a struggle against everything that represents the pure value of the spirit’. Unsurprisingly, this was a moment of great variation in Miró’s work, with many paintings carrying a profound undertow of despair whether in colouring, energetic handling or the violent language of their titles.

In September 1939 France and Britain responded to Hitler’s invasion of Poland by declaring war on Germany. The atmosphere of uncertainty in France was palpably precarious. The lull in activities that followed – the so-called ‘Phoney War’ – was riven with anxiety, and Miró, working at Varengeville in Normandy, tried hard to maintain a balance in his work.

Though it is difficult to be precise, it was around this time that he conceived the Barcelona Series of fifty lithographs. Here they occupy the long wall linking the adjacent galleries. The cast of characters in the series, eventually printed in Barcelona in 1944, parade ogres and dictators (derived from Alfred Jarry’s tyrant Père Ubu) as well as the innocent victims of conflict. Some of his original drawings that survived the printing process are shown here as well.