Art History  •  Artworks under the lens

Ambiguity, Freedom and Simplicity in Joan Miró’s ‘Woman in Front of the Sun’

Woman in Front of the Sun represents Miro’s quest for freedom and simplicity in his paintings, created using his Surrealist-inspired subconscious painting style. Consequently Woman in Front of the Sun treads a line between abstraction and figuration and is a wildly ambiguous composition that exemplifies Miro’s mature style. In this article, Singulart discusses the artist’s life and his style in Woman in Front of the Sun. 

Who was Joan Miro? 

Joan Miro (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, Miro 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. Miro is today recognized as a pioneer of Surrealism and his fantastical, lyrical paintings remain some of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century. 

Joan Miro in 1935.

What’s happening in Woman in Front of the Sun?

Woman in Front of the Sun depicts an abstract black form that is assumed to be that of a woman, thanks to the title. The figure is made up of a long central oblong with an abstract head, only one eye is depicted and it fills the entire face. Four curved lines extend from the figure and seem to suggest arms and legs, one of which holds on to a baton. Against a pure blue background, the female figure dominates the centre of the composition, surrounded by three star shapes and a red circle. Again, thanks to the title, one can assume that the red circle represents the sun. The bright contrast of the blue and red against the black of the figure, suggests she is merely a shadow. It also evokes the combination of colors and sensations that occur when one looks at the sun for too long. However, all these details are left ambiguous and are mere speculations on the viewer’s part, as the compositional elements float around the canvas, leaving the space wide open to interpretation. The flatness and lack of depth or texture in the composition enhance the surreal, dreamlike quality of the image. 

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Miro was renowned for his Surrealist-inspired investigations of the unlocked subconscious and this is clear in the dream-like quality of Woman in Front of the Sun. Without the help of the title to guide the viewer, this painting would be even harder to make sense of. Miro used the same symbols, including the sun, stars and the female figure, throughout his career. In comparison to his earlier, more enigmatic style, in Woman in Front of the Sun his simple representation of these elements adds a whimsical almost humorous quality to the work. 

Miro stated that:

“Mastering freedom means mastering simplicity. Then, at most, a line, a color, is enough to make a picture.”

It would appear that Miro succeeded in mastering both freedom and simplicity in Woman in Front of the Sun, as it is the bold, expressive colors and the quality of the line which make this painting so successful. In a few strokes and a few colors, Miro has succeeded in creating an evocative image full of surrealist traits and ambiguity. Miro’s legacy was established through his continuous experimentation and exploration of non-objectivity and Woman in Front of the Sun is an example of his line-treading between figuration and abstraction. Miro also had a lasting influence on many artists to come, including the color field painters such as Helen Frankenthaler, who were inspired by his swathes of flat, unblended color as Miro used in Woman in Front of the Sun. 

Keen for More Miro? Dive into our carefully curated ‘Inspired By’ collection:

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