Lot 310
  • 310

Joan Miró

180,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • Joan Miró
  • Sans titre
  • Signed Miró and dated été 1929 (on the verso)
  • Pencil, brush and ink, pen and ink and collage on sandpaper
  • 28 1/4 by 42 1/2 in.
  • 72 by 108 cm


Galerie Pierre, Paris (acquired directly from the artist)
Acquired from the above


Jacques Dupin, Miró, New York, 1961, no. 250, illustrated p. 505
Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné, Drawings, 1901-1937, vol. I, Paris, 2008, no. 290, illustrated in color p. 147


Executed on brown sandpaper. The sheet has a light undulation throughout. There are half a dozen minor perpendicular tears to the edges of the sheet, one repaired tear measuring 2 in. long but the majority less than 1/2 in. in length. These are largely covered by the mat. There are artist pinholes to the periphery of the sheet. A vertical line of creasing to the white collage element. There is some studio surface dirt transfer and some minor handling creasing throughout. The work is in good condition. For a more thorough condition report prepared by prepared by Alvarez Conservation Services please contact the Impressionist & Modern Art Department at +1 (212) 606 -7360.
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

Joan Miró’s self-declared “assassination of painting” through Surrealist drama and mystery is exemplified in Sans titre, a work that exhibits the Catalonian artist’s fundamental challenge to traditional modes of painting, as well as his will to transcend the boundaries of Modernism’s most decisive movements. Immersed in the eclectic circle of the Spanish avant-garde from a young age, Miró soon moved to France in 1922 where he found a critical place amongst artists and writers such as Salvador Dalí, André Breton, André Masson and Max Ernst. As Jordi Solé I Tura has stated: “Miró’s adherence to the Surrealist movement in Paris demonstrates the independent spirit he cultivated throughout his career that, above all, had a tone of its own: the encounter with, surprise at, and renewed portrayal of daily reality” (quoted in Joan Miró: 1893-1993 (exhibition catalogue), Fundacio Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1993, p. 13). Executed in the summer of 1929, Sans titre was conceived only a year after the artist’s triumphant debut at Galerie Georges Bernheim in Paris, an exhibition that would have a significant effect on Miró’s career and place him at the forefront of the Parisian avant-garde. While France became Miró’s adopted home, the artist’s cultural identity inherent to his Catalonian upbringing would remain present throughout his work, and Catalonia would prevail as a place he associated with spirituality, emotion and nostalgia.

Miró’s prodigious inventiveness unfolds upon the surface of the present lot, which in turn unveils an oscillating tension between figuration and abstraction—an undulating balance innate to the artist’s formal vocabulary. The present composition illuminates a golden monochromatic background interrupted by a dynamic expression of line and form. Vivid contrasts materialize between curved lines and sharp points, the angular and circular working against each other in yet another aesthetic tension inherent to Miró’s oeuvre. However this balanced dance between sinuous and severe elements manifest an equilibrium through which Miró’s imaginative world is born. The artist writes, “Forms take reality for me as I work. In other words, rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting, and as I paint, the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush” (quoted in ibid., p. 22). Through his remarkable abstracted forms, Miró broke through the extremity of Modernism, and in a defiant assault on Cubism, centralized his visual efforts instead upon the world of dreams and the unconscious, or the surreal.

This interaction between dreams and reality fundamentally embodied the Surrealist discourse, and to engage with this rhetoric Miró employed cosmic metaphors and celestial imagery, both recurrent themes throughout the artist’s oeuvre. In Sans titre, one can discern the shape of two stars at the composition’s base, and a planet evocative of Saturn hovers over the center of the work. Despite Miró’s tendency toward abstraction, his cosmic symbolism is distinct, and its figuration in the present lot forms a key precursor to the artist’s most celebrated Constellations series, completed nearly ten years later (see fig. 1). Comprised of twenty three individual works on paper, the series employs the same amalgamation of linear and sinuous forms, ultimately conjuring a fantastical, dream-like constellation of the cosmos.

Sans titre has a remarkable provenance. The work was acquired directly from the artist by Galerie Pierre in Paris, an early advocate of Miró, and the venue for a major solo show of the artist’s Surrealist works in 1925. The composition has since remained in the collection of Robert and Renate Motherwell, a critical passing of ownership that attests to the legacy of the Spaniard and his profound influence upon a younger generation of artists. Indeed, Miró’s marriage of geometric and biomorphic forms, as well as the tension inherent to this synthesis informed the development of Motherwell’s own visual language.

Motherwell very much romanticized the role Miró played in the evolution of modern art, portraying him as an independent rogue of sorts, but also one who was invested in seeing other artists find their voice. Miró represented, in Motherwell's mind, the quintessential fearless artist who said and painted whatever he pleased. "I like everything about Miró," Motherwell wrote in a 1959 essay for Art News. "A sensitive balance between nature and man's works, almost lost in contemporary art, saturates Miró's art, so that his work, so original that hardly anyone has any conception of how original, immediately strikes us to the depths" (Robert Motherwell, “The Significance of Miró” in Art News, May 1959, quoted in Barbara Rose, Miró in America (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982, p. 5).

Motherwell wrote in 1944, “A dialectic between the conscious (straight lines, designed shapes, weighed color, abstract language) and the unconscious (soft lines, obscured shapes, automatism) resolved into a synthesis which differs as a whole from either” (quoted in Jack Flam, Katy Rogers & Tim Clifford, Motherwell: 100 Years, Turin, 2014, p. 36). This is a key feature present in works such as Elegy to the Spanish Republic #122 (see fig. 2), an Abstract Expressionist composition indebted to Miró’s innovation and revolutionary freedom of expression. Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies series recalls the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the tragic unrest that followed, a sociopolitical conflict that resonated deeply with Miró, and one that drove the artist to visually represent his own comprehension of such dark events. Motherwell’s adherence to Miró’s visual vocabulary illuminates the later artist’s powerful influence upon the language of modern art in the twentieth century, and further evokes the Catalonian’s challenge to traditional painting through “aesthetic assassination” and the rebellious championing of anti-painting.