Trained as an architect, the Chilean-born Roberto Matta moved to France in 1933, where he worked in the studio of Le Corbusier. The following year, he met the poet Federico García Lorca in Spain. After Lorca was assassinated by agents of Francisco Franco in 1936, Matta began a screenplay, The Earth Is a Man, which he wrote in tribute to the slain hero. The play’s apocalyptic imagery, rapidly shifting perspectives, and emotionally charged language became the principal source of Matta’s visual art over the next five years. The painting The Earth Is a Man represents the culmination of this project and draws on the artist’s earlier compositions, which he called “Inscapes” or “Psychological Morphologies.” In these, using a technique of psychic automatism developed by the Surrealists, Matta created turbulent forms that serve as visual analogues for states of consciousness.
In this powerful, enigmatic work, forces of brilliant light seem to battle those of darkness. The artist spilled, brushed, and wiped on vaporous washes of paint to render the invisible waves of energy that shape and dissolve a molten, primordial terrain. The painting’s visual intensity evokes the tumultuous eruption of a volcano, such as one Matta had witnessed in Mexico in 1941. Exhibited shortly after its completion in New York City, where he had immigrated at the onset of World War II, the mural- size canvas, with its abstract and visionary qualities, enthralled and influenced a new generation of American artists, who would come to be known as the Abstract Expressionists.
Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.
Matta: Oils, Pencils and Paintings, exh. cat. (New York: Pierre Matisse Gallery, 1942), cat. 8.
Henry McBride, “Matta, at Last,” The New York Sun, Friday, Apr. 3, 1942.
Matta Echaurren, exh. cat. (Chicago: Arts Club of Chicago, 1944), cat. 27 (as The Earth is Man).
William S. Rubin, Matta, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1957), 4; 17 (ill.); 34, cat. 7.
X Years of Janis, exh. cat. (New York: Sidney Janis Gallery, 1958), cat. 42 (ill.).
Matta, exh. cat. (Chicago: Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 1963), cat. 12.
William S. Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1968), pp. 166; 167; fig. 258 (ill.); 238, cat. 214.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Selections From the Joseph Randall Shapiro Collection, exh. cat. (Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1969), n.p., cat. 52 (ill).
André Breton, Surrealism and painting, trans. Simon Watson Taylor (Icon Editions; Harper & Row, 1972), 186 (ill.).
Miro: In the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art; New York: New York Graphic Society, 1973), 117, fig. 25 (ill.).
Lionel Abel, “The Surrealists in New York,” Commentary (October 1981), 49.
Rose Art Museum, Matta: The First Decade, exh. cat. (Waltham, MA: Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1982), pp. 12, 22.
Matta: Les Classiques du XXe Siècle, exh. cat. (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1985), 272, 273.
Terry Ann R. Neff, ed., In the Mind’s Eye: Dada and Surrealism, exh. cat. (Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art; New York: Abbeville Press, 1985), 14-17; 18, pl. 11 (color ill.); 99; 190.
Katherine Kuh and Dennis Adrian, The Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Randall Shapiro Collection, exh. cat. (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1985), 6, Fig. 2, cat. 112 (color ill.), 17, 111, cat. 112.
Holliday T. Day and Hollister Sturges, Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920-198, exh. cat. (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1987), 288.
Germana Ferrari, Entretiens Morphologiques: Notebook Nº 1, 1936-1944 (London: Sistan, 1987), pp. 116; 117 (color ill.); 264.
Valerie Fletcher, Crosscurrents of Modernism: Four Latin American Pioneers, exh. cat. (Wshington D.C.: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), 237-39; 243-45; 264 (color ill.); 277; 291, cat. 85.
Celia Marriott, Matta: Works from Chicago Collections, exh. cat. (Chicago: Arts Club of Chicago, 1993), n.p., cat. 4 (color ill.).
Garrett Holg, “Surrealist Matta Makes Impression On Chicago Scene,” Chicago Sun-Times, Sunday, Feb. 14, 1993, 13.
Alan G. Artner, “Going one-on-one with Art Institute works,” Chicago Tribune, Friday, Sept. 3, 1993, Section 7, Art, 62 (ill.).
Charles F. Stuckey, “Selected recent acquisitions of twentieth-century art at The Art Institute of Chicago” in The Burlington Magazine 135, No. 1087 (October 1993), 728, cat. XII (ill.).
James N. Wood and Teri J. Edelstein, The Art Institute of Chicago: Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago; New York: Hudson Hills Press, Inc., 1996), 86; 87 (ill.).
Stephanie Barron, Exiles+Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1997), 178, fig. 172 (ill. pictured upside down); 179.
Gordon Onslow-Ford, Esteban Frances: 1913–1976, exh. cat. (Madrid: Dirección General de Patrimonio Cultural, Consejería de Educación y Cultura, Comunidad de Madrid, 1997), 36 (ill.).
Daniel Schulman, “The Earth is a Man,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 29, 2 (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2003), 74-75 (color ill.).
Elizabeth Coizueta, Matta: Making the Invisible Visible, exh. cat. (Boston: Charles S. and Isabella V. McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 22, 33.
Gavin Parkinson, Futures of Surrealism: Myth, Science Fiction and Fantastic Art in France, 1936-1969. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 21.
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Matta. Oils, Pencils and Paintings, Mar. 31–Apr. 21, 1942, cat. 8.
New York, Coordinating Council of French Relief Societies, First Papers of Surrealism, Oct. 14–Nov. 7, 1942, no cat.
The Arts Club of Chicago, Matta Echaurren, Jan. 4–29, 1944, cat. 27 (as The Earth is Man).
San Francisco Museum of Art, 6 Latin American Painters, 1946 (as La tierra es el hombre), no cat.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Matta, Sept. 10–Oct. 20, 1957, cat. 7; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Nov. 15–Dec. 30, 1957; Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Jan. 18–Mar. 2, 1958.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, X Years of Janis, Sept. 28–Nov 1, 1958, cat. 42.
Chicago, The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Matta, Mar. 30–May 11, 1963, cat. 12.
Cleveland Museum of Art, 50 years of Modern Art, June 15–July 31, 1966, no cat.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Dada, Surrealism and Their Heritage, Mar. 27–June 9, 1968, cat. 214; Art Institute of Chicago, Oct. 19–Dec 8, 1968.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Selections From the Joseph Randall Shapiro Collection, Dec. 20, 1969–Feb. 1, 1970, cat. 52.
Museen der Stadt Köln, Westkunst: Zeitgenössische Kunst seit 1939, May 30–Aug. 16, 1981.
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, In the Mind’s Eye: Dada and Surrealism, Dec. 1, 1984–Jan. 27, 1985.
Art Institute of Chicago, The Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Randall Shapiro Collection, Feb. 23–Apr. 14, 1985, cat. 112.
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art modern, Matta: Les Classiques du XXe Siècle, Oct. 3–Dec. 16, 1985.
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Art of the Fantastic: Latin America 1920-1987, June 28–Sept. 13, 1987; Flushing, The Queens Museum, Oct. 10–Dec. 6, 1987; Miami, Center for the Fine Arts, Jan. 15–Mar. 4, 1988; Mexico City, Centro Cultural / Arte Contemporáneo, Mar. 25–May 22, 1988.
Washington D.C., Hirshorn Museum, Crosscurrents of Modernism: Four Latin American Pioneers, June 11–Sept. 7, 1992, cat. 85.
Arts Club of Chicago, Matta: Works from Chicago Collections, Jan. 13–Mar. 6, 1993, cat. 4.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Matta: The Earth is a Man, Aug. 7–Oct. 24, 1993, no cat.
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Matta in America: Paintings and Drawings of the 1940s, Sept. 30, 2001–Jan. 6, 2002; Miami Art Museum, Mar. 21–June 10, 2002; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, June 29–Sept. 21, 2002.
The artist; sold through Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clifford, Radnor PA, 1942 [McBride 1942]. Sold through Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, to William Rubin, New York, by 1958 [New York 1958]; sold to Richard Feigen, Chicago, by 1963 [Chicago 1984, pp. 14-17; Chicago 1963]; sold to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Randall Shapiro, River Forest, IL by 1963 [Chicago 1963]; given to Art Institute of Chicago, 1992.
Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.