Lot 156

Joan Miro, “Lliure” (1987), etching and aquatint in colors (all images courtesy Christie’s London)

Today, 28 works by the Spanish surrealist Joan Miró were auctioned in London to benefit refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East. Organized in part by the artist’s grandson, Joan Punyet Miró, the auction raised a total of $69,122, all of which will go to the Red Cross.

Miró himself spent much of his life in exile, fleeing war zones. During the Spanish Civil War, he lived in exile in Paris, where he often went hungry. At the time, thousands of Spanish refugees lived in camps in Southern France. In 1940, the Nazi invasion of France forced Miró to flee back to Spain.

“This is a way to remember that life is not always easy for everybody,” Punyet Miró, who worked with Christie’s to organize the sale during today’s Prints and Multiples auction, told the AFP. “My grandfather would have done the same thing. He always wanted to help the most disadvantaged, the refugees and those in exile, and would be aware that what is happening today in Syria could happen tomorrow in Spain.” More than 4.8 million refugees have fled Syria since conflict erupted in 2011.

Lot 159

Joan Miro, “Les Montagnerds II” (1990), etching and aquatint in colors on wove paper (click to enlarge)

The artist also felt personally indebted to the Red Cross, which saved the life of his only daughter, Maria Dolors Miró. On New Year’s Eve 1965, on the coast of Catalonia, María Dolors Miró was crossing train tracks in her car in fog. A train hit her and she flew over the top of a tree, breaking her leg in five places. “My mother spent a year in a Red Cross bed,” Punyet said in a recent interview with Christie’s. “They saved her life.” As an expression of thanks, in 1970, Miró donated a large tapestry, “Tapís de Tarragona,” to the organization.

The engravings and lithographs that were auctioned included “Le Fantôme de l’atelier” (“The Phantom of the Workshop”), a 1987 print of an amoeba-like figure in reds, blacks, yellows, and greens. The Les Montagnerds series, a set of 10 etchings of surreal, calligraphic figures, was also sold. All of the auctioned works went for more than their pre-sale estimates.

Though he’s known best for his paintings, printmaking was an essential part of Miró’s art practice. “They were works he’d revise over and over again — using different copper plates to create hues with this terrific emotional intensity,” Punyet Miró said of his grandfather’s prints. “He experimented tirelessly. Once, he mixed varnishes with sweet cream from the kitchen to achieve a less regular texture. One day, I made myself a bow and arrows, and found one was missing because he’d used it to make an engraving.” He knew that the prices of prints made them accessible to a wider audience than paintings were, allowing for sales like this most recent auction.

“This kind of collection and the story behind it, we haven’t done this before,” Lucia Tro Santafé, a specialist associate director in prints and multiples at Christie’s, told the Wall Street Journal. “People are aware that this social crisis is terrible, and we have all ethical and moral engagement towards these great institutions like the Red Cross. It’s time to raise up and work together again.”

Lot 161

Joan Miro, “Les Montagnerds IV” (1990), etching and aquatint in colors on wove paper

Lot 164

Joan Miro, “Les Montagnerds VII” (1990), etching and aquatint in colors on wove paper

Lot 166

Joan Miro, “Les Montagnerds IX” (1990), etching and aquatint in colors on wove paper

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.