Lot 26
  • 26

Joan Miró

8,000,000 - 12,000,000 GBP
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  • Joan Miró
  • signed Miró, titled and dated 1.2.1945 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 146 by 114cm.
  • 57 1/2 by 44 7/8 in.


Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owners in 1964


New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Joan Miró, 1947, no. 22, illustrated in the catalogue


Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró, Life and Work, New York, 1962, no. 644, illustrated p. 549
Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings, Paris, 2001, vol. III, no. 744, illustrated in colour p. 68

Catalogue Note

In August 1946 the New York dealer Pierre Matisse wrote in a letter to Miró: ‘I need more than ever those canvases in order to complete your exhibition, which I want to do as soon as possible’ (quoted in Pierre Matisse and his Artists (exhibition catalogue), The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 2002, p. 209, translated from French). Among these canvases was a group of five large-scale oils, including the present work, which Miró had executed between the end of January and late February 1945. Matisse was keen to demonstrate to the American public the lively state of painting in Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, and probably deemed this group of large oils to be among the most energetic and life-affirming works coming from Europe. Femme rêvant de l’évasion is the only work from this exceptional group of paintings still in private hands, as the others are now in major international museums (figs. 1-3). The series culminated in several monumental oils executed in March and April of that year, such as Femme dans la nuit (fig. 4), now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Writing about Miró’s works from 1945, Jacques Dupin observed: ‘The intimism of Miró’s entire production from 1939 on, and the invention of a new language which it made possible, lead to a magnificent series of large canvases painted in 1945, which are among the best-known and most frequently reproduced of all his works. They contributed greatly to Miró’s celebrity. Apart from two with black grounds, these works all have more or less uniformly light grounds, gray-white, blue-white, or blue. […] The space is taken up with big figures, birds, stars, and signs […]. Most of the figures are drawn in uniformly thin lines, with all the elegance we expect of Miró’s arabesque. Areas of pure color set off certain details or parts – legs, arms, or bust, but more often certain chosen elements by this means take on the value of signs – the eye, the female sexual organ, the foot. These canvases are thus fertile in ambiguity, for they may be read in two different ways. We may isolate figures and define them by their contours, their black or colored portions, their amplified details, in a space populated by signs and stars; but we may also read the painting in an over-all sense, grasping it as a rhythmic, chromatic ensemble in which all the accentuated elements – signs, stars, or attributes of figures – call to and answer one another. Actually, we read these works in both senses simultaneously’ (J. Dupin, op. cit., 1962, pp. 378-379).

Treating the themes of ‘woman in the night’ – sometimes accompanied by a bird – and ‘woman dreaming of escape’, the present work and its companion pieces are executed on white background, against which a mysterious spectacle seems to be taking place. Femme rêvant de l’évasion is executed in a highly stylised and abstract manner, using the vocabulary of signs that Miró’s developed a few years earlier in his celebrated Constellations series. A woman dominates the composition, surrounded by Miró’s signature star, spots and lines. Above her head, an abstract black form is reminiscent of a ladder, which she might be dreaming of as her means of escape into a different world. Despite its large format, the image is rendered with a precision and elegance characteristic of Miró’s best works, and it is the contrast between the meticulous use of line and the larger areas of solid colour that give the composition its dynamic quality. The clarity and spontaneity visible in the present work herald the new style that would define Miró’s post-war production.

The present work exemplifies the expressive power of images, even though they bear no faithful resemblance to the natural world. Miró is solely reliant upon the pictorial lexicon of signs and symbols that he had developed over the years. In fact, it was these compositions from the mid-1940s that would inspire the creative production of the Abstract Expressionist artists in New York. A few years after he executed this work, the artist offered creative advice to young painters, and his comments are an insight into the underlying motivations that inspired the present work: ‘He who wants to really achieve something has to flee from things that are easy and pay no attention to […] artistic bureaucracy, which is completely lacking in spiritual concerns. What is more absurd than killing yourself to copy a highlight on a bottle?  If that was all painting was about, it wouldn’t be worth the effort’ (quoted in Margit Rowell, Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 226).

A technique of primary importance in this painting is Miró’s expressive and exquisite use of line. Overall, his remarkable visual vocabulary strikes a perfect balance between abstraction and image-signs. His pictures from the mid-1940s are characterised by a sense of energy and movement, there is never a sense of stasis. Moreover, each work is the result of active and ongoing improvisation that renders a precise interpretation impossible. But by the 1940s Miró heightened his audience’s engagement with his art by giving his pictures poetic titles. The artist had experimented with incorporating poetry or lyrical text into his pictures in the late 1920s, but then largely rejected the use of highly descriptive titles over the following decade. His return to using language as a didactic tool was a major shift in his art in the 1940s, and in the present work, the fanciful title adds a narrative dimension to this lively composition.