Kootz Gallery, New York
Perls Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above on September 16, 1963
Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1961, no. 213, illustrated p. 501
Jacques Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, catalogue raisonné. Paintings, vol. I, Paris, 1999, no. 240, illustrated p. 182
The present work is one from a series of thirteen canvases, executed between 1925 and 1927, which explore the theme of the circus horse. The circus provided ample material for a generation of artists working in Paris during the first quarter of the 20th century. Among the many examples are the saltimbanques of Picasso, the whimsical wire sculptures by Calder, and the many soulful clowns of Chagall and Rouault. For Miró, however, the Circus was not a source of character types or a framework for psychological investigations, but rather a spectacle of movement and color that would accommodate his artistic explorations. Jacques Dupin has written on this subject as follows:
"One of Miró's major obsessions from the very earliest paintings on had been circular and spiral movement, the tension that arises between a center or a fixed axis and something revolving around it... The image of a man at the center of a ring, whose long whip makes the horses move around it, accurately portrays this metaphysical fable and the organization of forces it describes. This theme helped the artist to liberate himself from his obsession. He produces a series of variations on this theme, of such freedom and daring that in some of them it is impossible to identify horse, man or whip... The ringmaster is at the center, swinging on the base supplied by a half circle. He is connected with the horse by the sinuous black line of a whip: a flexible white arabesque repeats the motif of the whip. Certain canvases on this theme stress the simple contrast between the horse – light, mobile, airy, white (the color of dreams), with a tiny head and long limber legs – and the man, who is almost never personified, represented by no more than his indispensable attributes, namely immobility and centrality. He is often summed up as a powerful black quadrangle at the center of the canvas, with or without the immense uncoiled arabesque of the whip shooting out from it" (Jacques Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 128).
In some works from the series, such as the composition in the Musée d'Ixelles, Brussels (Dupin, no. 234), the horse is clearly drawn as a complete form with a long giraffe-like neck, flowing mane and outstretched legs. In paintings such as the work with the subtitle, The Lasso (Dupin, no. 233), the deep-blue ground is simply inscribed with flowing black lines, like flat ribbons lashing and turning through the air, to indicate the movement of the ringmaster's whip. Throughout the iterations of this theme, certain elements take precedence over others. In some paintings, the corporal presence of the figures is clearly indicated, while in other paintings the artist only allows traces of movement to represent the scene, like shadows on a wall. For the present work, the artist has reduced the horse and the elements of the circus to lines and the most elemental forms.
Miró's contemporaries marvelled at Surrealist paintings from the late 1920s, and noted that artist's extremely sparing rendering could result in extraordinarily powerful works. in 1959, Alberto Giacometti recalled Miró's pictures from this era, noting "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 just leave three blobs of colour on the canvas and it became a painting, that was a painting" (quoted in Joan Miro, 1917-1934 (exhibition catalogue), Centre Pompidou, 2004, p. 212).
For over forty years, the present work belonged to the Detroit collectors Josephine and Walter Buhl Ford II, who were heirs to the great American automotive legacy pioneered by Henry Ford at the beginning of the 20th century. Rarely exhibited, this is the first time that the picture will be on display to the public in four decades.
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