By Meltem Sahin


The exposure to the explosions of colors shapes and words yet filled with immense negative space, ones’ mind overwhelm with “À Toute Épreuve”. Roughly meaning foolproof, “À Toute Épreuve” is an illustrated poem book, created through the exchange and collaboration of two life-long friends French poet Paul Eluard and Catalan painter Joan Miro geniuses and sensations, guiding viewer from word to image, image to word interchangebly. Poems are written in French, and have not been translated in any other languages, preserving its uniqueness. The book written by Paul Eluard in 1930 and illustrated by Joan Miro from 1947 to 1958 is the landmark of 20th century illustrated books. It enthralled generations of illustrators, poets, painters, modernists and artists in general.

Paul Eluard was a French poet and one of the founders of Surrealism, along with Andre Breton, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. Other than Miro, Eluard also worked with Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso and Man Ray for his early poems. When his wife Gala divorced him to marry Salvador Dali, Eluard became depressed and created three suites of poems in “À Toute Épreuve”, one might say from his wounds and pain.  His emotional turmoil comes alive in the book, in his words “Je suis seul je suis seul tout seul”, which means “I am alone I am alone all alone” (Mellby, 17). Unfortunatly, when Eluard died in 1952, only one third of the book was finished.

Joan Miro had been interested in poetry since he was at Art College in Barcelona. When he moved to Paris, the poetry of French Surrealism influenced Miro profoundly. For him the discrepancy between poetry and painting was never clear: “Poetry and painting are done in the same way you make love; it’s an exchange of blood, a total embrace – without caution, without any thought of protecting yourself“ (Miro). This resemblance, I believe, has pushed Miro to look at Eluard ‘s words differently than the poet himself, By combining different concepts he could build a monumental work of book art. According to French Surrealist poet Pierre Reverdy,” The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be — the greater its emotional power and poetic reality” (Syrotinski, 166).  In contrast to the depressed and pessimistic words of Eluard, Miro’s illustrations in “À Toute Épreuve” are Dp optimistic. In the book, there is no hierarchy between words and lines. Because they share the same significance, the spectator is drawn from words to images simultaneously.

In Miro’s drawings in the book, a celebration of love, joy and playfulness can be observed through his usage of vigorous colors and buoyant figures. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was his intension at first to depict those meanings. He says that, “ The painting rises from the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the words. The meaning comes later” (Miro) Improvisations, expressing subconsciousness and trying to depict child-like drawings were the goals of surrealists and Joan Miro. As famous German-Swiss painter Paul Klee said: “A drawing is a simply a line going for a walk” (Brucker). Although he has never signed up for Surrealist Manifesto, as Andre Breton called him “the most surreal of us all” (Miro Room Guide) Thus, he was using juxtapositions, plastic metaphors and dreamlike figures to create poetry in his drawings.

It took eleven years for Miro to finish those marvelous illustrations; he was literally living and aging with them and becoming his illustrations in his process of creating.  Once he wrote to his publisher Cramer “I am completely absorbed by the damn book. I hope to create something sensational, the most important achievement in engraving since Gauguin” (Joan Miro). Miro created 233 blocks to create 79 woodcut prints. He used found objects like wood, wire, variety of papers and wires as printed surfaces. Only 20 copies were published within premier edition, including additional woodcut prints of Miro. The result was astonishing as he prospected with vanguard original prints that varying from one book to another.

The style of the illustrations in the book represent the climax of Miro’s works.  His use of vibrant color and the interpretation of color as spaces of emotion is influenced by Fauvism. While reds and yellows are coming out from the page, blues and greens create deeper holes and tend to be seen latter. Shapes are the reminiscent of movement. His unique use of intersecting amorphous forms, curved lines and dots leads viewer’s eye  from the forms to the texts. His illustrations are at the edge of abstraction because of dominance of shapes and lines over figures. His figures are also made of shapes and lines but still conveying certain emotions and body language. He draws child-like figures and illogical scenes because of their intimacy to subconscious. The artist uses visual primitive language to strengthen the moods he created. His figures are floating in wide negative spaces without gravity. His play with white space fortifies the dynamism of his compositions along with his curved lines and dazzling colors.

In “À Toute Épreuve”, neither illustrations nor poems should be read separately; they are in constant dialog that invites the onlooker in. As French philosopher Jacques Derrida suggested, there are no dualistic oppositions in text and image that install a hierarchy that privileges one term on another. In addition, the art of Miro and Eluard is working in compliance and influencing one other. “À Toute Épreuve” is a masterpiece in the history of Modern Illustrated Books that emerged from the duet of the two geniuses, in their own words, a masterpiece of “Plastic harmony” (Braziller).

Images From the “À TOUTE ÉPREUVE”




Works Cited


Mellby, Julie. “Miró/Eluard Exhibition Now Open.” Graphic Arts. 19 Feb. 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <https://blogs.princeton.edu/graphicarts/2008/02/miroeluard_exhibition_now_open.html>

“Joan Miro.” Art Quotes. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

Syrotinski, Michael, and Ian Maclachlan. The Body as Medium and Metaphor. Bucknell UP, 2001. 166. Print.

Joan Miro.” The Nirula Family Co. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <https://thenirulafamilycompany.com/juan-miro.html>.

Brucker, Julia. “Paul Klee.” The Art Story. 13 Oct. 2014.

“Miro: Room Guide.” Tate Modern. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

“Joan Miro.” Ursus Books and Prints. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

Braziller, George. À Toute Épreuve. 1993. Print


Born and raised in Turkey, Meltem Sahin is a talented freelance illustrator and graduate student in the Illustration Practice Program at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).