Skip to Content
Today Open today 10–11 members | 11–5 public

The Earth Is a Man

A work made of oil on canvas.
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Image actions

  • A work made of oil on canvas.




Roberto Matta
Chilean, 1911–2002

About this artwork

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.


On View, Gallery 398


Modern Art




The Earth Is a Man


France (Artist's nationality:)

Date  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.



Oil on canvas


182.9 × 243.8 cm (72 × 96 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Randall Shapiro (after her death, dedicated to the memory of Jory Shapiro by her husband)

Reference Number



© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Extended information about this artwork

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.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions