Lot 11
  • 11

Joan Miró

10,000,000 - 15,000,000 USD
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  • Joan Miró
  • Tête humaine
  • Signed Miró. and dated 5-31. (lower left); titled on the reverse
  • Oil, wood, wire, sandpaper and thread on canvas
  • 32 by 25 3/4 in.
  • 81.3 by 65.4 cm


Galerie Pierre Colle, Paris

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York

G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired by 1954)

Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont, Chicago (acquired from the above by 1961)

Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired by 1969)

Private Collection, Switzerland

Acquavella Galleries, New York

Acquired from the above in 1988


Paris, Galerie Pierre Colle, Exposition Surréaliste, 1933

Venice, La Biennale di Venezia XXVII, 1954

Chicago, The Arts Club, Joan Miró, Works from Chicago Collections, 1961, no. 16, illustrated in the catalogue

London, The Tate Gallery & Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich, Joan Miró, 1964, no. 93, illustrated in the catalogue

Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Artistes Espagnoles, 1969. no. 19, illustrated in color in the catalogue

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Joan Miró, 1993-94, no. 94, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1961, no. 284, illustrated p. 236

Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1993, no. 174, illustrated p. 163

Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné. Paintings, 1931-1941, vol. 2, Paris, 2000, no. 353, illustrated p. 33

Surrealism in Paris (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Beyeler, 2011, illustrated in an exhibition photograph


This work is in very good condition. Original canvas. The collage elements are stable and secure. There is a very faint stretcher bar mark corresponding to the central horizontal stretcher bar. Under UV light, there are a few retouches at the lower left corner and along the bottom edge, one small spot in the brown pigments to the right of the yellow eyelashes and one spot near the center of the left edge, otherwise fine.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A rare masterpiece of "anti-painting", Tête humaine provides a glimpse into the development of Miró's personal iconography. Resistant to categorization, Miró rejected labels and artistic agendas, choosing instead to discover a profoundly individual artistic vocabulary. Miró painted the current work during an intensely creative moment in his career, a time when he broke away from discernible influences and created wholly unique works. He generates here an eloquent dialogue between painting and the incorporation of found objects. Though redolent of both Dadaism and Surrealism, with a visionary expression, Tête humaine transcends the movements that dominated European Modernism at the time.  

Throughout the 1920s, Miró fostered an autonomous identity amid the circle of artists active in Paris. Associating with the Dadaists and subsequently the Surrealists, Miró began to develop his artistic voice. Through his fellow Spaniard and good friend, Pablo Picasso, Miró would meet many of the luminaries that dominated this culturally thriving metropolis. Though he absorbed the surrounding ethos and appreciated the aesthetic advances made by Picasso, Miró maintained a singular voice through his paintings. By the end of the decade, he had developed a poetic vocabulary that would wind its way throughout the remainder of his oeuvre (fig. 2). Miró painted the current work at the end of this sojourn in Paris, just before he was forced to move back to Barcelona in 1932.

Collage became an important focus for Miró in the early 1930s. He looked beyond the myopic definitions of painting and searched for, in his own words, "anti-painting". He incorporated found objects onto the surfaces of his paintings, while playfully relying upon the rectilinear restrictions that had dominated the history of Western painting (fig. 3). This use of fully dimensional collage is not without precedent and finds a parallel in the works of Dadaists Hans Arp and Kurt Schwitters (figs. 5 & 6). However, Miró's ability to integrate the elements in the current work - circular wooden pieces, twine, sandpaper and thread - with the painted passages is entirely unique from Dada experiments. The result is an unprecedented choreography of sculptural object and painterly illusion.

The artist's use of collage was noted among his contemporaries. Catalan art critic, Sebastià Gasch, visited the artist's studio shortly after he painted the current work. Anne Umland writes of his experience there: "Gasch, following a visit to Montroig with Miró's friend and avant-garde patron Joan Prats in late September 1931, described the creative ambience in which Miró produced these works, comparing the artist's studio to a 'bric-a-brac store' filled with 'very bizarre objects,' including 'cane roots that resemble black idols, skeletal fragments found at the beach that resemble Egyptian sculptures, cork with incrustations of mollusks that have rich qualities, shells, dolls smashed, nails, pebbles, little mirrors of the carrer de la Boqueria, postcards from the carrer Nou.' Despite their oddity, Gasch went on to write, the objects in and of themselves are insignificant; it is only in Miró's juxtaposition of the materials that they are transformed to 'take on... an intense and penetrating life'" (Anne Umland, Joan Miró, Painting and Anti-Painting, 1927-1937 (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008-09, p. 102).

The originality of Miró's works from the mid-1930s would have an immense effect on both his contemporaries and subsequent generations of artists. Vividly explored in a series of exhibitions at the Fondation Beyeler is the clear dialogue between Miró's paintings and the sculptures of his close friend Alexander Calder. Indeed, the intersecting forms in the present work find a parallel with Calder's mobiles and stabiles executed a few years later. Echoes of Miró's biomorphic formology can be found in works by other Surrealists, such as Yves Tanguy and Max Ernst. The personal iconography extant in the present work however is entirely unique to Miró. The figural description in the current work will appear again in the artist's series of shocking pastels executed on flocked paper in the mid-1930s (fig. 7).

The plasticity which pervades Tête humaine characterizes the strongest of Miró's compositions and became a beacon for artists in the latter half of the twentieth century. Miró arrived at this formal language through years of personal exploration. Carolyn Lanchner has written of the '...force of his determination to assert a clear identity for his art. In order to express his particular experience of reality, he had somehow to reimagine the way painting could be made, to think his way out of the conventions it had thus far fostered. Like all the truly original modern artists, he had - as he put it, with less originality than urgency - "to go beyond painting." In September 1923 he described his efforts to his friend J. F. Ràfols: "I know that I am following very dangerous paths, and I confess that at times I am seized with panic like that of the hiker who finds himself on paths never before explored, but this doesn't last, thanks to the discipline and seriousness with which I am working"' (Carolyn Lanchner, Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993-94, p. 17).