A masterpiece by Joan Miró will be offered in the upcoming Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale. The painting will be on display from 6–9 June at Sotheby's New York, alongside other highlights from the sale, before returning to London to take centre stage in this historic auction. Femme et oiseaux is the eighth composition in Miro's Constellations – a series comprising twenty-three paintings that he produced in under two years, from January 1940 to September 1941; the first ten of which were made in France during his exile from the Spanish Civil War, and the remaining works completed on his return to Spain in 1940, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. At the time of painting, Miró was deeply anguished about the political situation in both Spain and France and profoundly concerned about both countries' future.
Femme et oiseaux is a mesmerising example of the artist's celebrated lyricism and freedom of expression: the ground has been brushed, scraped, polished, moistened and rubbed, creating the gradated pockets of light and dark that convey the celestial boundlessness in which the objects float. The bold reds and ultramarine blues, along with flickers of yellow and white comets, electrify the surface of the paper, while the great black voids add a spatial depth to the picture plane.
Interspersed amidst the crescent moon, suns, comets and stars are the pseudo-sexual amoeboid shapes and fragmented body parts that were often featured in Miró's surrealist paintings of the 1920s. Much like his earlier dream-inspired works, unrelated forms join together in frenzied activity to create this united cosmic vision.
Writing to his New York dealer Pierre Matisse on 4th February 1940 about this group of works, Miró confided: "I am now working on a series of 15 to 20 paintings in tempera and oil, dimensions 38 x 46, which has become very important. I feel that it is one of the most important things I have done, and even though the formats are small, they give the impression of large frescoes." Femme et oiseaux and the companion pieces were only exhibited for the first time at Pierre Matisse's gallery in January 1945. The exhibition caused a sensation when unveiled to the New York art world, and was universally praised. A critic for the New York Sun wrote: "it is impossible to to pick out the best picture in the display because all twenty-two pictures are the best" (Pierre Matisse and His Artists, The Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, 2002.)
Thomas Bompard, Head of Sotheby's London Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sales, said: "It's tempting to reference the stars aligning this season, with the rarity of offering a painting from a body of work that has such as mythical status. The universal appreciation for Miro's Constellations series – not only as Miro's greatest achievement but also as one of the most ground-breaking and celebrated bodies of work by any 20th century artist – comes into sharp focus when standing in front of Femme et oiseaux. We have no doubt that in the minds of collectors from around the world this is an exceptional opportunity – the last time one of the Constellations was sold at auction was at Sotheby's in 2001."
MAIN IMAGE: PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION: JOAN MIRÓ, FEMME ET OISEAUX, 1940. ESTIMATE ON REQUEST