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Details & Cataloguing

Surrealist Art Evening Sale

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Joan Miró
1893 - 1983
PEINTURE (L'OISEAU)
signed Miró and dated 1926 (lower right); signed Miró and dated 1926 on the reverse
oil on canvas
73 by 92cm.
28 3/4 by 36 1/4 in.
Painted in 1926.
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Provenance

Galerie Simon (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris

The Mayor Gallery, London (on consignment from the above)

Galerie Simon (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (returned from the above on 29th October 1934)

André Lefèvre, Paris (sold: Palais Galliéra, Paris, 24th November 1967, lot 119)

Estate of André Lefèvre, Paris (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Claude Aguttes, Paris, 21st December 2007, lot 151)

Purchased at the above sale by the late owner

Exhibited

Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Collection André Lefèvre, 1964, no. 193

Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti,  Miró: La terra, 2008, no. 13, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Miró: The Earth, 2008, no. 18, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Baden-Baden, Museum Frieder Burda, Miró. Les couleurs de la poésie, 2010, no. 13, illustrated in the catalogue

Literature

Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings, Paris, 2000, vol. I, no. 188, illustrated p. 150

Catalogue Note

Peinture (L’Oiseau), painted in 1926, was executed at the height of Miró’s engagement with Surrealism. Set upon a pristine, un-primed canvas, the brightly coloured forms and graceful lines of the composition are imbued with wit and an enigmatic charm. The present work belongs to the artist’s celebrated 'dream paintings' cycle in which he pioneered a poetic form of abstraction that is considered to be his finest achievement. Tantalisingly balanced between figuration and abstraction, Miró's whimsical forms originated from the world of dreams and the unconscious and their other-worldly character is emphasised by the void of the background that the images populate.

Between 1925-1927 the artist employed a limited number of backgrounds, from bare canvas (figs. 1 & 2), to luminous ultramarine blue (fig. 3) and scumbled and stained ochre and brown grounds (fig. 4), all of which elevate the oneiric qualities of the imagery. As in Miró's most successful works of the 1920s, this remarkable composition consists of a visual vocabulary of 'image-signs'. These images bear little resemblance to the natural world, and their function is more akin to that of words or music than to a literal representation of nature. As Jacques Dupin commented, they are 'devoid of all materiality, all corporeal density. Because of their spectral appearance, they seem to be figures of yet unborn, still not given life. They ignore the laws of gravitation; they hover in the clouds or glide through liquid or viscous matter. They are the very substance of dreams and hallucinations' (J. Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work, London, 1962, p. 164).

Miró experimented with incorporating poetry, or lyrical text, into some of his pictures of this period, but then largely rejected the use of highly descriptive titles in favour of intangible ones such as Peinture or Composition. The artist himself declared: 'I spent a great deal of time with poets, because I thought you had to go beyond the plastic thing to reach poetry. Surrealism freed the unconscious, exalted desire, endowed art with additional powers [...] I painted as if in a dream, with the most total freedom. The canvases of this period are the most naked I have painted' (quoted in Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1993, p. 180). The style steadily evolved towards the state of harmony found in the immaculate canvases such as Peinture (L’Oiseau), in which individual motifs are freely suspended amidst an unblemished ground and only connected by the finest lines free of literal translation or representation. Jacques Dupin commented on the candid quality of Miró's works from this period: 'What Miró did achieve was the arduous conquest of powers lost since childhood. And he succeeded by going his own way, stubbornly, passionately, with conscious fidelity to his own gifts and to the conditions of painting. It was from the inside, by pushing painting to its extreme consequences, that he made it possible to go beyond paintings, to reach the domain that lies beyond it' (J. Dupin, op. cit., p. 156).

The bird motif, a highlight of cobalt blue and brilliant yellow, would become a crucial element in this visual idiom. The potency of the subtly suggested forms, such as that of the bird, is chromatically enhanced by pure colours. These colours possess other implicated interpretations, such as Isabelle Monod-Fontaine’s definition of Miró’s use of blue:  'the colour blue (or azul as Miró termed it, in Spanish derived from Arabic) is generally associated with spirituality, implicitly referring to an 'above' of mellifluous whisperings, something like Mallarmé's Azure' (I. Monod-Fontaine, in Joan Miró, 1917-1934 (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 2004, p. 71).

Unlike his contemporaries' version of Surrealism, Miró's artistic development took a different turn. The ideology espoused by André Breton and his cohorts was generally depicted in a figurative manner, but for Miró the liberty granted by the Surrealist attitude to experimentation led him to become extremely imaginative with forms of representation, and eventually to total abstraction. He had joined the group in 1924, and participated in their first exhibition held at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. Breton's first Surrealist manifesto of 1924 proclaimed: 'I believe in the future resolution of these two states, seemingly so contradictory, which are dream and reality, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality'. Breton commented that Miró 'may be looked upon as the most Surrealist among us' (A. Breton, 'Le Surréalisme et la peinture', in J. Dupin, op. cit., p. 156).

The sheer exuberance of Miró's painting was at odds with his shy, reserved nature. At the time he was working on his ‘dream’ paintings Miró's usual modesty was especially in evidence. In a letter written to his friend Sébastià Gasch, the artist implored him not to mention his name or works to anyone in Paris. His friends struggled to contain their curiosity and enthusiasm for his work and in the same month as Miró completed the present work, Gasch wrote: 'Miró is inspired. Miró has re-vindicated all the prestige of what was considered not so long ago as an aberration [...] Miró, alert to his inner life, is only interested in the translation into form of his own dreams, the dreams of a poet, in the expression of his interior visions by strictly pictorial means, in his rendering of his imagination's suggestions through the exclusive medium of shape and colour. And the results he obtains are every day more positive. The welcome Paris's most exclusive artistic circles have given his works vouch for that' (S. Gasch, 'El pintor Miró', in La Caceta Literaria, 15th April 1927, vol. 1, no. 8).

Peinture (L’Oiseau) possesses all the essential qualities that marked out Miró's 'dream paintings' as the high-point of his early career. The elegance of its construction and the importance of the motifs depicted serve to underline the outstanding qualities of Miró's painting. Alberto Giacometti once said of the inimitable quality of Miró's art: 'For me, it was the greatest liberation. Anything lighter, more airy, more detached, I had never seen. In a way, it was absolutely perfect. Miró could not put down a dot without it being in just the right place. He was so much a painter, through and through, that he could leave three spots of colour on the canvas and it became a painting' (quoted in op. cit. (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 2004, p. 212).

Fig. 1, Joan Miró, Peinture, 1927, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Fig. 2, Joan Miró, Peinture, 1927, oil on canvas, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City
 
Fig. 3, Joan Miró, Peinture (Étoile bleue), 1927, oil on canvas, Sold: Sotheby’s, London, 19th June 2012

Fig. 4, Joan Miró, Peinture (Le Sum), 1925, oil on canvas, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris

Surrealist Art Evening Sale

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