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The old man and the Miro

- - Thursday, February 16, 2012

For Ernest Hemingway it wasn't a question of to have or have not.

He knew he had to have Joan Miro's "La Ferme" from the moment he saw the painting.

"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," he would write later. "No one else has been able to paint those two opposing things."

Hemingway had met Miro through Gertrude Stein, in Paris in 1924. They were both members of a circle of expatriate artists and writers, some of whom — including Miro — worked in the rue Blomet studio building.

Miro and Hemingway also used the same Paris gym, where they both occasionally boxed, sometimes as sparring partners. Their friendship led the writer to view the movable feast of the Catalonian artist's works, including the just-finished rendering of his farm in Mont-Roig.

In the early 1920s, the 5,000 franc price tag for "La Ferme" was steep for the writer just starting out, but Hemingway wanted the painting and arranged with Miro's dealer to pay in installments.

Meeting the payments was difficult, but Hemingway scraped together the money — raising the last sum by borrowing from friends, including fellow writer John dos Passos. "I would not trade it for any picture in the world," Hemingway would write.

Later, Hemingway saw the real thing when he stayed with Miro at the Mont-Roig farm.

"La Ferme" hung in the dining room of Hemingway's Havana home, where, according to the story told in Mont-Roig, he would neither loan it for exhibitions nor agree to show it to visitors because he didn't want to share it.

In 1987, 26 years after Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, his widow Mary Hemingway gave the painting to the National Gallery of Art.