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Impressionist & Modern Art

Miró & the Subversion of Surface

Radical use of materials is the leitmotif of modernism. Yet, for Miró, it was the means to a particular end: "I want to assassinate painting". This declaration, made to French art critic Maurice Raynal in 1927, marked the beginning of a lifelong commitment to challenging painterly convention. An important work embodying this very intention will be offered for sale in the Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale at Sotheby's in London on 2 March. 

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JOAN MIRÓ, PAINTING, 1931. ESTIMATE: £250,000—350,000. 

With its radical use of collage and metal support, Painting, executed in March 1931, exemplifies Miró's assault on traditional painting. In January of the same year, Miró famously told Francisco Melgar, during the journalist's visit to his Paris studio: "I intend to destroy, destroy everything that exists in painting"(Miró and the Object, p. 24). 

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MIRÓ EXPERIMENTING ON A LARGE SCALE. PHOTOGRAPHED BY FRANCESC CATALÂ-ROCA.

By 1931, the status of painting had reached an impasse; following an epistemological crisis, instigated by the work of Hegel and Husserl, and economic crisis in the late 1920s and early 1930s, modern artists called into question painting’s metaphysical and monetary underpinnings. After his initial move to Paris in 1922, Miró established close contact with Picasso, Breton, Masson, Ernst, Arp and Éluard and began to adopt an overtly experimental style. His un-primed canvases of 1927, revolutionary collages of 1929 and anti-painting objets of 1930 were followed by artworks dedicated to innovative technique and an economy of pictorial means.

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MIRÓ APPLYING PAINT WITH HIS FINGERS, AND IN HIS STUDIO IN MONTMATRE, PARIS IN THE 1950S. 

The playful subversion of traditional supports and the use of non-artistic materials, as is evident in Painting (March 1931), was a rebellion against the inherent predisposition to ascribe value to paintings. From the mid-1920s onwards, painting became synonymous with commercialism and cowardice in Surrealist circles; the reluctance to work freely with materials and take risks came to signify a superficial interest in monetary gain over dedication to the advancement of the avant-garde. Miró wrote to his Spanish friend Gasch in January 1931 of "bleak financial circumstances"; yet, as other letters from the period where the artist spoke of "beating" his canvases "with hammer blows" make clear, Miró was more preoccupied with the crisis in painting than in economics (Miró, quoted in Anne Umland, Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting, 1927-1937, New York, 2008 p. 10). 

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 FRANCESC CATALÂ-ROCA, MIRÓ LOOKING THROUGH ONE OF HIS BURNT CANVASSES, 1973. 

We glimpse a mischievous grin through a burnt canvas in Francesc Català Roca's photograph of Miró in 1973. Forty-years after his call for murder, Miró's visceral approach to artistic production remained corrosive. As with Painting, Miró's burnt canvases of the 1970s continued to undermine any simple equation between the meaning of creating a painting and making a work of art. For Miró, destructive and creative impulses were irrevocably intertwined:  "The material, the instrument, dictate a technique to me; a way of giving life to a thing." (Joan Miró, 1893-1993, 1993 Fundació Joan Miró, p. 426). 

 

MAIN IMAGE: JOAN MIRÓ, PAINTING, 1931. ESTIMATE: £250,000—350,000. 

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