signed Miró and dated 1927 (lower right); signed Joan Miró and dated 1927 on the reverse
André Lefèvre, Paris (sold: Palais Galliéra, Paris, 25th November 1965, lot 65)
Private Collection, France (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Aguttes, Paris, 21st December 2007, lot 150)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Collection André Lefèvre, 1964, no. 195
Zurich, Kunsthaus, The Nahmad Collection, 2011-12, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
New York, The Pace Gallery, Mythology, 2012, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings, Paris, 2000, vol. II, no. 264, illustrated p. 198 (titled Peinture)
The dazzling Peinture (Étoile bleue) is an extraordinary image of astonishing grace and visual potency executed at the height of Surrealism. Set upon a magnetically charged ultramarine background, the present work belongs to Joan Miró's celebrated 'dream paintings' cycle in which he pioneered a poetic form of abstraction that is considered to be his finest achievement. In 1971 Rosalind Krauss was preparing the landmark exhibition Joan Miró: Magnetic Fields at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Krauss wrote to the then owner of the work at the time requesting a loan of the painting for the show: 'I visited Miró in Mallorca, to discuss our project with him. During our visit; Miró emphasized the significance of this exhibition in order to demonstrate an aspect in his œuvre that was very important yet unknown to the public. We looked at pictures of the possible paintings that we would exhibit and he drew my attention in particular to Blue Star [the present work] as a work key to his œuvre and to the time period. The importance of this work in the eyes of Miró comes from the fact that within it we find exceptionally the representation of human figures and cosmic signs reunited in one solitary image' (letter from R. Krauss, 8th December 1971).
In 1925 Miró began a group of pictures which were to be known as his 'dream paintings', and are considered to be his most important and groundbreaking works. Having abandoned the fantastical figurative manner of representation he had hitherto employed and developed a new visual idiom that was first used in works such as Peinture-Poésie (fig. 1), in which he declares that blue is the colour of his dreams. The style steadily evolved towards the state of perfect harmony found in Peinture (Étoile bleue) in which individual motifs are freely suspended amidst an unblemished ultramarine blue ground and only connected by the finest lines free of literal translation or representation. The star motif, a highlight of majestic cobalt blue which it shares with another painting in the series would become the crucial element to this visual idiom. The intensely rich blue used in many of the 'dream paintings' is the quintessential feature of works from this period and was immensely influential to a later generation of artists such as Mark Rothko (fig. 7) and Yves Klein (fig. 8). Isabelle Monod-Fontaine writes: 'the colour blue (or azul as Miró termed it, in Spanish derived from Arabic) is generally associated with spirituality, implicitly referring to an 'above' of mellifluous whisperings, something like Mallarmé's Azure' (I. Monod-Fontaine, in Joan Miró, 1917 – 1934 (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 2004, p. 71).
In April 1927 Miró began a further group of paintings with a luminous cerulean background all of which derived their inspiration from the Fratellini brothers who performed a circus act at the Cirque Medrano in Paris throughout the 1920s (figs. 2, 3 & 4). The circus provided ample material for a generation of artists working in Paris at the time, including Picasso and Calder (fig. 6). For Miró it represented an inspiring display of movement and colour that when reassembled upon the canvas retained only the most fleeting yet sensational flashes of their structures. Jacques Dupin writes: 'One of Miró's major obsessions from the very earliest paintings on had been circular and spiral movement, the tension that arises between a centre or a fixed axis and something revolving around it [...]. The image of a man at the centre 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 centre, swinging on the base supplied by a half circle. [...] He is often summed up as a powerful black quadrangle at the centre of the canvas, with or without the immense uncoiled arabesque of the whip shooting out from it' (J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 128).
Miró moved from the rue Blomet in Montparnasse to a studio that his dealer, Jacques Viot, had found for him in the Cité des Fusains in Montmartre in 1926. There he was transported into the heartland of the Surrealists; his neighbours were Max Ernst, René Magritte, Jean Arp and Paul Eluard. This extraordinary community of artists were producing their most ground-breaking work at this time. The concentration of artistic minds in such close proximity to each other meant that their inventiveness was dramatically spurred on by 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). Unlike his contemporaries' figurative version of Surrealism, Miró's artistic development took a different turn. The ideology espoused by André Breton and his cohorts was generally depicted in a figurative manner. For Miró the liberty granted by the Surrealist attitude to experimentation led him to become extremely imaginative with forms of representation, and eventually led him to total abstraction. He had joined the group in 1924, and participated in their first exhibition held at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. Breton's first Surrealist manifesto of 1924 proclaimed: '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'. Breton commented that Miró 'may be looked upon as the most Surrealist among us' (A. Breton, 'Le Surréalisme et la peinture', in Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work, London, 1962, p. 156).
The sheer exuberance of Miró's painting was at odds with his shy, reserved nature. At the time he was working on Peinture (Étoile bleue) Miró's usual modesty was especially in evidence. In a letter written to his friend Sébastià Gasch, the artist implored him not to mention his name or works to anyone in Paris. His friends struggled to contain their curiosity and enthusiasm for his work and in the same month as Miro completed the present work, Gasch wrote: 'Miró is inspired. Miró has re-vindicated all the prestige of what was considered not so long ago as an aberration – inspiration. [...] Miró, alert to his inner life, is only interested in the translation into form of his own dreams, the dreams of a poet, in the expression of his interior visions by strictly pictorial means, in his rendering of his imagination's suggestions through the exclusive medium of shape and colour. And the results he obtains are every day more positive. The welcome Paris's most exclusive artistic circles have given his works vouch for that' (S. Gasch, 'El pintor Miró', in La Caceta Literaria, 15th April 1927, vol. 1, no. 8).
Peinture (Étoile bleue) possesses all the essential qualities that marked out Miró's 'dream paintings' as the high-point of his early career. Its immensely rich colouration, the elegance of its construction and the importance of the motifs depicted serves to underline the outstanding qualities of Miró's painting. Alberto Giacometti once said of the inimitable quality 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 op. cit, Paris, 2004, p. 212).
Fig. 1, Joan Miró, Peinture-Poésie (Photo ceci est la couleur de mes rêves), 1925, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fig. 2 , Joan Miró, Peinture, 1927, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London
Fig. 3, Joan Miró, Peinture, 1927, oil on canvas, Fondation Beyeler, Basel
Fig. 4, Joan Miró, Peinture, 1927, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Fig. 5, Man Ray, Portrait de Joan Miró, 1934, photograph
Fig. 6, Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1940, painted iron and filament, Stiftung Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum - Zentrum Internationaler Skulptur, Duisberg
Fig. 7, Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1968, oil on paper laid down on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 14th November 2007
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