A re-edited version of Ernest Hemingway’s book A Moveable Feast is being released this summer. The famous memoir of life in Paris in the 1920s includes Hemingway’s story of buying the great Joan Miro painting The Farm for his first wife, Hadley, in 1925. Indeed, the whole reason for the reedit may turn on the painting.
The new version makes Hemingway’s second wife look better than she did before. There may be a reason: Hemingway’s son Patrick speculated in a story in a New York Times story that Hemingway’s last wife Mary “who had had a falling out with Pauline,” his second wife, shaped the manuscript to depict Pauline poorly. It was not just a later wife’s jealousy. In editing the book, the theory goes, she ” might have wanted to curry favor with Hadley, who owned the rights to a painting by Miró that Mary wanted.”
The painting stayed with Hemingway, not Hadley after their divorce and hung in his houses in Key West and Cuba. It ended up in the National Gallery in Washington as a bequest of Mary Hemingway.
The painting, done in 1921 and 1922 showed Miro’s family farm near Montroig, in Catalonia. It hovers between naïve painting and modernism. Hemingway famously said "No one could look at it," Hemingway wrote, "and not know it had been painted by a great painter."
"It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there." Hemingway wrote. "No one else has been able to paint these two very opposing things."
Both the book and the painting are about the play of experience and memory. They are the opposing things in Hemingway. In the painting , those opposing things, for the viewer and for the painter, are more complex: they are visual sophistication and naïve emotion, urban and rural, head and heart. Perspective space and naïve flatness are balanced out and compromised. Shapes hover between representation and abstraction, between depiction of recognizable things and the surreal, dreamy blobs of Miro’s later work.
"It was the summary of one period of my work,” Miro said, “but also the point of departure for what was to follow."
Miró testified that the painting summed up “everything I know about the farm.” He said he spent nine months of hard work on it, apparently changing his mind and scraping out parts and painting over them. In 1928 he wrote, “The Farm was a résumé of my entire life in the country. I wanted to put everything that I loved about the country into that canvas—from a huge tree to a tiny little snail.”
Hemingway’s account claims that he paid for the painting in several parts. When in September, 1925, he was bringing it home after scraping together the last 5000 francs due, he writes "In the open taxi the wind caught the big canvas as though it were a sail, and we made the taxi driver crawl along." Miro continued to visit the family farm in Montroig.
The show of Miro last year at the Museum of Modern Art suggested how much Miro used his Montroig retreat as a lab for experiments in the 1920s and 1930s. He felt freer there than in his Paris studio.