The Strangely Magical Universe of Joan Miró

The Strangely Magical Universe of Joan Miró

The Catalan artist eschewed easy categorisation but in "The Snobbish Soiree at the Princess's House", a standout work from the late 1940s, he brought together a magical blend of influences, emotion, dreams and wit to create a playful, enigmatic work that beguiles and fascinates to this day
The Catalan artist eschewed easy categorisation but in "The Snobbish Soiree at the Princess's House", a standout work from the late 1940s, he brought together a magical blend of influences, emotion, dreams and wit to create a playful, enigmatic work that beguiles and fascinates to this day
“The painting must be fertile. It has to give birth to a world. It doesn’t matter if you see flowers in it, figures, horses, as long as it reveals a world, something living”
- Joan Miró

T o encounter "La soirée snob chez la princesse" (“The Snobbish Soiree at the Princess's House”), painted by Joan Miró in 1948, is to enter a world of dreamlike whimsy and avant-garde experimentation. This painting on paper executed by the Spanish artist in the post-war years is a shimmering, vital encapsulation of Miró’s distinctive melange of Surrealism, Expressionism and fractured narratives, topped off with vivid colour markings, Who are these biomorphic characters, with their stick-line figures, distended heads and multicoloured, topsy-turvy eyes? And why do they beguile and fascinate us, dancing across the composition, amidst the scattered symbols and pictorial signifiers?

Joan Miró

This painting, executed in the late 1940s, superbly exemplifies how Miró’s varying degrees of association with art movements over the years had come to infuse his own, very distinct practise. This painting’s composition is spacious, light and bouncy, the markings and spaces between the six figures adding a sense of movement and rhythm, electrified by the signature stars and zig-zagging lines.

Miró's use of organic, biomorphic forms reflects his fascination with the natural world, celebrating growth and transformation in dynamic, interlocking arrangements. Given the maturation of Miró’s style evident in Sans titre (Soirée snob chez la Princesse), and its creation during an especially productive period in his life, it remains one of his most sought-after works.

"In the late forties Miró showed a new interest in titles conceived as distinct poetic phrases. Again it would seem that Miró felt the need for a verbal accompaniment so that his motifs would be taken not at face value but as allusive poetic images"
- Margit Rowell 'Miro' (1970)

By the mid-1940s, Miró had grown fond of seducing his audiences with symbols and poetically-cryptic titles. Earlier in his career, he had made playful use of language, working poetry or texts into his pictures, before moving away from descriptive titles in the following decade. After the “Constellations” series of the early to mid 1940s, in which he went big on celestial motifs such as stars, moons, suns, and planets evoking themes of cosmic harmony and mystery, he plunged back into the rewarding realm of words, confident in their potential to add a slightly surreal poetic element to his rich visual language.

At the same time, he retained his love of natural symbolism, the moon, stars, skies – much as he had done since childhood. In fact, the child-like sense of innocence and wonder continued to define his outlook, acting as therapy for the often-depressed artist.

“The space is taken up with big figures, birds, stars and signs. It is merely there to be occupied, and possesses no independent function of its own.”
- (J. Dupin, 'Miró', New York, 1993)

“This work will be familiar to many of our long-standing collectors, as it was once a detail on our Preferred card, back when we used to have plastic,” says Helena Newman, Sotheby’s Chairman, Worldwide Head of Impressionist and Modern Art. “Our long-standing clients might remember that image from the card. But regardless of that, it’s an absolutely exquisite gouache on paper, made just after the end of World War Two, the same decade as his celebrated “Constellations”, earlier in the 1940s. Those works were all unified by the motifs that float on the canvases, that draw from the human figure, the constellations of the sky, nature, amoeboid forms. It’s playful and enigmatic, full of joie de vivre.”

Miró had absorbed successive waves of Modernist art since 1920, from Fauvism and Cubism to Surrealism, Abstraction and Expressionism. In this piece, elements of all are visible. For instance, his figures with their minimal bodies and stylised, distended heads lightly reference Cubist tendencies, whilst remaining free of any one dominant allegiance.

Joan Miró at work in his later years

And his use of primary colours - a signature element of Miró’s work – not only adds a kinetic energy to his compositions, but according to Newman, bring purity and clarity to the work.

“While the reds and the yellows are the colours of the Spanish flag, the primary colours give it a purity, intensity, and clarity. The colours carry a real punch and are very strong. Blue is a significant colour for Miró - it dominates his work from the 1920s onwards and it’s the most spiritual of colours."

“How did I think up my drawings and my ideas for painting? Well, I'd come home to my Paris studio in Rue Blomet at night, I'd go to bed, and sometimes I hadn't any supper. I saw things, and I jotted them down in a notebook. I saw shapes on the ceiling.”
- Joan Miró

This all-encompassing universal vision meant Miró's influence continued to extend beyond his own era, helping drive the evolution of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Likewise, his experimentation with form and symbolism inspired successive generations of questing artists who engaged with the subconscious mind, and the connection between art and the natural world. These themes remain just as relevant today as when this work was created, allowing viewers to find their own personal meaning in his work. This artwork stands out as a captivating example of Miró's artistic brilliance and continues to enchant audiences with its enigmatic charm and thought-provoking content.

The London Sales

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