Art History  •  Artworks under the lens

The Hunter by Joan Miró: Decoding the Masterpiece

The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) is one of Joan Miró’s first works in his mature, Surrealist style. It exemplifies his use of automatism, or the use of his subconscious, to create paintings that conjure up a realm between dream and reality, on the edge of abstraction and figuration, in order to open new potentials in painting. In this article, Singulart decodes Miró’s masterpiece and takes a closer look at Miró’s Surrealist style. 

Joan Miró Up Close

Joan Miró (1893-1983) was a Spanish Surrealist artist known for his paintings, sculptures and ceramics. Born in Barcelona, he studied business as well as art, but soon abandoned his business studies after suffering from a nervous breakdown and committed himself entirely to becoming an artist. Like many other artists of his generation, his early work was heavily influenced by Van Gogh and Cezanne. In 1920, attracted by the Fauve and Cubist movements, Miró moved to Paris and had his first exhibition there the year after. In 1924 he joined the Surrealist group, although the symbolic and poetic elements that defined the movement were already present in his work before this time. He began to experiment with automatism, creating through the unlocked unconscious mind, as well as experimenting with collage and the process of painting towards the rejection of the traditional framing of painting. Miró is today recognized as a pioneer of Surrealism and his fantastical, lyrical paintings remain some of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century. 

What is happening in The Hunter?

The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) is the first example of Miró’s mature style, free from all previous influences of Fauvism and Cubism. On first glance this appears to be an abstract work but on closer inspection it reveals a number or symbols with complex interpretations. The canvas is divided into two by a wavy terracotta ground which meets a yellow sky. A number of geometric shapes and symbols such as flames, flags, a pipe, birds and an eye float around the canvas, linked by Miró’s delicate wandering lines. In the lower right hand corner the letters “SARD” are inscribed in cursive writing. Miró applies color in a thin fresco like sheen and the whimsical quality of his lines enhances the surrealism of the scene. 

A closeup of the letters 'S-a-r-d' which appear in the bottom right corner of The Hunter.
A closeup of the letters ‘S-a-r-d’ which appear in the bottom right corner of The Hunter.

The Hunter: Possible Interpretations

The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) introduces many symbols that repeat throughout Miró’s oeuvre. The first that can be identified, with the help of the painting’s title, is a hunter. In the top left-hand corner the hunter takes the form of a stick-man with a triangular head. He smokes a pipe and holds a dead rabbit in his left hand, and a smoking gun in his right. Small representations of the French, Spanish and Catalan flags also float in the upper section of the canvas. One of the most prominent symbols in the composition is a large beige circle, which supposedly represents a carob tree, with its single leaf attached by a line. Other symbols suggesting a rural landscape can be deciphered such as a potato, a campfire and vines. These symbols form an iconography of Miró’s life, evoking a Catalan landscape, most probably of his family’s farm in Catalonia. 

Detail of the character of The Hunter.
Detail of the character of The Hunter.

However, this singular interpretation is offset by the other symbols in the composition which pull it from the autobiographical reality into a more lyrical realm of dreams. Across the lower section of the canvas is a deconstructed sardine and the first four letters “sard” in the lower right-hand corner. Other symbols referring to marine life include seagulls and waves which float in the upper left hand corner. This sardine, displaced from the sea, refers to the technique “dépaysement” or displacement, often employed by the Surrealists to juxtapose unexpected images to create their disorientating, dreamlike images. The sardine was a recurring motif in Miró’s dreams and consequently made its way onto the canvas through his use of automatism. 

Waves and gulls detail from The Hunter
Waves and gulls detail from The Hunter

The Hunter: Between Dreams and Reality 

At the crux of The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) and understanding Miró’s painting lies his desire to challenge the traditions of painting and the bourgeois connotations it held at the time. Through the surrealist technique of automatism, Miró’s pursued the creation of art without conscious thought, resulting in such fantastical compositions on the cusp of abstraction and figuration, dream and reality, as The Hunter (Catalan Landscape). As a viewer, one can easily feel lost and un-steadied by an encounter with this painting; all reason and expectation that one brings to a painting must be abandoned in order to find one’s bearings and understand what Miró’ is expressing. By picking up his clues (symbols) the viewer can map their way through this dream-like realm, with the space to let their own imagination roam alongside Miró’s . 

Love Miró’s paintings? Check out the exclusive Singulart collection of contemporary artists inspired by Miró!

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