Miró’s prodigious inventiveness unfolds upon the surface of the present lot, which in turn unveils an oscillating tension between figuration and abstraction—an undulating balance innate to the artist’s formal vocabulary. The present composition illuminates a golden monochromatic background interrupted by a dynamic expression of line and form. Vivid contrasts materialize between curved lines and sharp points, the angular and circular working against each other in yet another aesthetic tension inherent to Miró’s oeuvre. However this balanced dance between sinuous and severe elements manifest an equilibrium through which Miró’s imaginative world is born. The artist writes, “Forms take reality for me as I work. In other words, rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting, and as I paint, the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush” (quoted in ibid., p. 22). Through his remarkable abstracted forms, Miró broke through the extremity of Modernism, and in a defiant assault on Cubism, centralized his visual efforts instead upon the world of dreams and the unconscious, or the surreal.
This interaction between dreams and reality fundamentally embodied the Surrealist discourse, and to engage with this rhetoric Miró employed cosmic metaphors and celestial imagery, both recurrent themes throughout the artist’s oeuvre. In Sans titre, one can discern the shape of two stars at the composition’s base, and a planet evocative of Saturn hovers over the center of the work. Despite Miró’s tendency toward abstraction, his cosmic symbolism is distinct, and its figuration in the present lot forms a key precursor to the artist’s most celebrated Constellations series, completed nearly ten years later (see fig. 1). Comprised of twenty three individual works on paper, the series employs the same amalgamation of linear and sinuous forms, ultimately conjuring a fantastical, dream-like constellation of the cosmos.
Sans titre has a remarkable provenance. The work was acquired directly from the artist by Galerie Pierre in Paris, an early advocate of Miró, and the venue for a major solo show of the artist’s Surrealist works in 1925. The composition has since remained in the collection of Robert and Renate Motherwell, a critical passing of ownership that attests to the legacy of the Spaniard and his profound influence upon a younger generation of artists. Indeed, Miró’s marriage of geometric and biomorphic forms, as well as the tension inherent to this synthesis informed the development of Motherwell’s own visual language.
Motherwell very much romanticized the role Miró played in the evolution of modern art, portraying him as an independent rogue of sorts, but also one who was invested in seeing other artists find their voice. Miró represented, in Motherwell's mind, the quintessential fearless artist who said and painted whatever he pleased. "I like everything about Miró," Motherwell wrote in a 1959 essay for Art News. "A sensitive balance between nature and man's works, almost lost in contemporary art, saturates Miró's art, so that his work, so original that hardly anyone has any conception of how original, immediately strikes us to the depths" (Robert Motherwell, “The Significance of Miró” in Art News, May 1959, quoted in Barbara Rose, Miró in America (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982, p. 5).
Motherwell wrote in 1944, “A dialectic between the conscious (straight lines, designed shapes, weighed color, abstract language) and the unconscious (soft lines, obscured shapes, automatism) resolved into a synthesis which differs as a whole from either” (quoted in Jack Flam, Katy Rogers & Tim Clifford, Motherwell: 100 Years, Turin, 2014, p. 36). This is a key feature present in works such as Elegy to the Spanish Republic #122 (see fig. 2), an Abstract Expressionist composition indebted to Miró’s innovation and revolutionary freedom of expression. Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies series recalls the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the tragic unrest that followed, a sociopolitical conflict that resonated deeply with Miró, and one that drove the artist to visually represent his own comprehension of such dark events. Motherwell’s adherence to Miró’s visual vocabulary illuminates the later artist’s powerful influence upon the language of modern art in the twentieth century, and further evokes the Catalonian’s challenge to traditional painting through “aesthetic assassination” and the rebellious championing of anti-painting.
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