In the mid-1920s Miró’s art underwent a complete transformation. Moving away from a broadly naturalistic style, he invented a new abstract language of signs that would prove hugely influential to both his contemporaries and subsequent generations of artists. Painted in 1927, Peinture (Femme au chapeau rouge) belongs to this celebrated cycle of 'dream paintings' which are now considered to be the artist’s finest achievement.

Joan Miró in 1936. Photograph by Man Ray © Man Ray 2015 Trust / DACS, London

In 1924 Miró had joined the Surrealists, participating in their first exhibition held at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. He moved in 1926 to a studio in Montmartre where he was surrounded by other Surrealist artists including Max Ernst, René Magritte, Jean Arp and Paul Eluard. This extraordinary community were producing their most ground-breaking work during this period and their close proximity spurred them on through conversation and competitive rivalry. Roland Penrose writes: 'The two years during which Miró was based in the rue Tourlaque came at a time when the early heroic period of surrealist activity was reaching its highest point of animation' (R. Penrose, Miró, 1970, London, p. 61). Breton’s famous proclamation in the 1924 Surrealist manifesto, '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', might seem perfectly suited to Miró’s work but the Spanish artist was always keen to state his independence from the movement. Whilst undoubtedly influenced by their experimental attitudes and ideas around automatism and the subconscious, for Miró Surrealism was just one of a number of starting points that would lead him to an increasingly imaginative treatment of forms and eventually to his own distinctive abstract style.

“I painted as if in a dream, with the most total freedom. The canvases of this period are the most naked I have painted.”
Joan Miró

As exemplified in Peinture (Femme au chapeau rouge), the 'dream paintings' were characterised by a multitude of signs and symbols suspended in space and freed from the restraints of literal representation. As Jacques Dupin wrote: ‘Forms are radically simplified, figures become weightless and colourless ellipses […] features and ornaments are eliminated in order to bring out their ghostly aspect, their inner vibrations, the trails they leave behind them in the air […] space unfurls in a monochromatic expansion of colour […] a realm of fluid, fleeting lines – lines so light they turn into dots – of juxtaposed splotches and muted colours – the most common colour being white, a spectral, lunar white […] an unlimited cycle of nocturnal improvisations, works that suddenly rise up and are brushed onto the canvas like dream-stories or fantastic blueprints’ (J. Dupin, in Joan Miró. A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1987, p. 38).

(Left) Joan Miró, Peinture (Fratellini), 1927, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Philadelphia Museum of Art, A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952, 1952-16-1 (Centre) Joan Miró, Peinture (Fratellini), 1927, oil on canvas, Fondation Beyeler, Basel © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró (Right) Joan Miró, Peinture (étoile bleue), 1927, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby’s, London, 19th June 2012, £23.6 million ($36.9 million) © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020

The present work appears most closely related to a small group of paintings that embody those characteristics. In 1927 Miró created a number of works on the same scale, sharing the same luminous blue background populated by enigmatic lines and forms. Two of these – now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fondation Beyeler – were inspired by the Fratellini brothers who performed a circus act at the Cirque Medrano in Paris throughout the 1920s. The circus provided ample material for a generation of artists working in Paris at the time, including Picasso and Calder. For Miró the display of movement and colour revolving round a fixed axis was evidently mesmerising and that tension and energy is a vivid presence in the works of this period. The present work is not explicitly linked to the circus by its title – for Miró it was simply Peinture although historically it has also been known as Femme au chapeau rouge – but the anthropomorphic orchestration of lines and forms and its slightly insouciant air connects it to both Philadelphia and Beyeler works. Certainly, the composition is full of character and offers a range of possible meanings; the red ‘hat’ could just as easily be a sardonically raised eyebrow, the white acts both as the figure’s body or a languorous plume of smoke. Truth is not the concern of these paintings, however. The meaning of the individual forms is subordinate to the pulsing centrifugal energy of its overall design.

“I am working hard; going toward an art of concept, using reality as a point of departure, never as a stopping place. –Convinced that that is how art should be: concept.”
Joan Miró

These interactions and the question of abstraction was one that preoccupied Miró, and never more so than during this period of rapid development and experimentation. He argued against what he described as ‘abstraction-abstraction’; ‘as if the marks I put on a canvas did not correspond to a concrete representation of my mind, did not profess a profound reality, were not part of the real itself!’ (quoted in Margit Rowell & Ann Temkin, ‘Miró at the Museum: Works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’, in Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 83, no. 356/357, 1987, p. 16). As Margit Rowell explains: ‘Miró’s preoccupation with concrete reality never allowed him to become totally abstract. Although they appear to be pure abstractions, the paintings of 1925 to 1927 […] do not feature arbitrary configurations but motifs derived from objects, persons and events encountered in Miró’s worldly experience’ (M. Rowell, in ibid., p. 16).

(Left) Mark Rothko, No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow), 1958, oil and acrylic with powdered pigment on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London. / © 2020. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence (Right) Yves Kein, Untitled blue monochrome (IKB 82), 1959, dry pigment in synthetic resin on canvas mounted on board, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York © Succession Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020 / © 2020. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation/Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence
The present work hanging at Calder's house in Saché, France. Photograph by Pedro E. Guerrero © The Estate of Pedro E. Guerrero / © Pedro E. Guerrero Archives. All rights reserved.

These ‘dream paintings’ are the core of Miró’s artistic legacy. As Rosa Maria Malet writes: ‘With these paintings of dreams Miró opened up a new path – the path of abstract lyricism – in the world of contemporary art. In this he was anticipating by twenty years the creation of a suggestive space thanks to the combination of texture and structure, as has been recognised by artists all over the world’ (R.M. Malet, Joan Miró, Barcelona, 2003, p. 12). One can see the impact of Miró’s immense monochromatic backgrounds – typically either earth brown or the intensely rich blue of the sky – on artists such as Mark Rothko and Yves Klein. His work also developed along a resonant though separate trajectory to that of his close friend, Alexander Calder, who once owned the present work. The two artists met in Paris in 1928 and began a friendship that would continue until Calder’s death in 1976. As Calder once remarked: ‘I came to love his painting, his colour, his personages, and we exchanged works’ (quoted in Alexander Calder/Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), Perls Galleries, New York, 1961). The delicate lines and bright coloured forms that populate the ‘dream paintings’ suggest a particularly striking parallel with Calder’s mobiles; Miró acknowledged the ‘mobile’ aspect of his works, writing: ‘Forms are at the time immobile and mobile in my pictures […]. They are immobile because of the clarity of their outlines and because of the kind of frame in which they are sometimes placed. But precisely because they are immobile, they suggest movements […]. Inside the large forms, small forms move. And, when you look at the whole picture, the large forms become mobile in their turn’ (quoted in Yvon Taillandier (ed.), Miró. Je travaille comme un jardinier, Paris, 1964, p. 42). This effect is particularly apparent in Peinture (Femme au chapeau rouge); the thin lines that connect the coloured forms seem to compel movement. It reads like elements of a mobile hanging against an ink-blue sky, making real what Alberto Giacometti once said 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 Joan Miró, 1917-1934 (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 2004, p. 212).

(Left) Alexander Calder, Antennae with Red and Blue Dots, 1960, aluminium and steel wire, Tate Modern, London © 2020 Calder Foundation, New York/DACS, London / © Photo ©Tate (Right) The present work

Miró’s Dream Paintings in Museum Collections
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  • Philadelphia, USA

    Peinture (Fratellini)
    1927
    oil on canvas
    130 by 97cm.
    Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Philadelphia Museum of Art, A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952, 1952-16-1

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  • Toronto, Canada

    Peinture
    1926
    oil on canvas
    100 by 81cm.
    Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró

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  • Basel, Switzerland

    Peinture (Fratellini)
    1927
    oil on canvas
    130 by 97.5cm
    Fondation Beyeler, Basel



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró

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  • Cologne, Germany

    Peinture-poème (Amour)
    1926
    oil on canvas
    146 by 114cm.
    Museum Ludwig, Cologne



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró

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  • Nagoya, Japan

    Peinture
    1925
    oil on canvas
    97 by 130cm.
    Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró

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  • Madrid, Spain

    Peinture
    1927
    oil on canvas
    55 by 46cm.
    Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró

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  • Stockholm, Sweden

    Peinture (La figure rouge)
    1927
    oil on canvas
    112 by 144cm.
    Moderna Museet, Stockholm



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró

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  • London, England

    Peinture
    1927
    tempera and oil on canvas
    97 by 130cm.
    Tate Modern, London



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Photo ©Tate

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  • Mexico City, Mexico

    Peinture
    1927
    oil on canvas
    97 by 130cm.
    Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City



    Image © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró

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  • Washington, D.C., USA
    Peinture (Le cheval de cirque)
    1927
    oil and pencil on burlap
    195 by 280cm.
    Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.



    © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020 / Image © Successió Miró

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