Lot 243
  • 243

Joan Miró

300,000 - 500,000 USD
375,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Joan Miró
  • La Funambule 
  • Signed Miró (toward lower center)
  • Gouache and brush and ink on paper


Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Helen Serger (La Boétie, Inc.), New York
Acquired from the above 


Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue Raisonné, Drawings, vol. II, Paris, 2010, no. 830, illustrated in color p. 27

Catalogue Note

La Funambule was likely executed at Varengeville-sur-Mer, on the Normandy coast of France where he spent the summer in 1938, working on murals for the house of his friend, the architect Paul Nelson. The artist had visited the area in 1937 and found it to be a perfect spot for secluded and focused work in the following years, a type of withdrawal from the world and the trauma of political life in Europe. He permanently moved there in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War and remained until 1940. Painted as the Spanish Civil War raged on, and the rest of Europe stood on the brink of the Second World War, the present lot is part of a series of works created by Joan Miró in a moment of intense creativity. Appearing monstrous and omnipotent, beautiful, hopeful and optimistic, or vulnerable and terrified, the tight-rope walker like the rest of the figures in this series, painted against the backdrop of impending war, is at once vivid and unsettling. This profound sense of tension is expressed in the figure balancing against all odds, forever in limbo, always on the brink of falling yet still somehow managing to remain upright.

Miró fled to Paris at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, but he soon found himself in a city in the clutches of increasing anxiety and fear of the inevitability of war. Miró later commented on this time of his life: "Unconsciously I was living in an atmosphere of anxiety characteristic of when something grave must surely take place. Like before it rains: heaviness of head, aching in the bones, and an asphyxiating dampness. It was more a physical than a moral distress. I sensed a catastrophe and I didn’t know what it would be: it was the wars, the Spanish Civil War and the World War. I tried to portray this tragic atmosphere that tormented me and that I felt inside me" (quoted in Joan Miró 1893-1993 (exhibition catalogue), Fundacio Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1993, p. 313).

As a result of this growing sense of unease and apprehensive anguish, Miró’s work became the site of a subjective outpouring of emotion as he used the subject of the human figure to express his deeply felt fears. As his friend and biographer Jacques Dupin wrote, "Miró was now to experience and express the collective tragedy as an inner torment. Miró's works would then give expression to all this in the form of an assault upon the human figure, disintegrating it utterly, submerging it in a tidal wave of unleashed elemental powers" (Jacques Dupin, Miró, Barcelona, 1993, p. 185).

In contrast to the biomorphic, metamorphosed, and monstrous creations that populate Miro's work from the early and mid-1930s, the so called peintures sauvages or "savage paintings", compositions from the late 1930s such as the present watercolor, possess a renewed sense of structure and control. This is clearly visible in the composition of La Funambule. Each part of the figure’s body is reduced to a simplified and essential form. This is then repeated throughout the composition: the red orbs of the figure's cheeks are echoed in the navel of the woman. Likewise, the triangle shape of the figure's head is inverted and repeated to represent her breasts. Though imbued with the same explosive energy and expressive, spontaneous vigor as many of the earlier "savage" paintings, in La Funambule, Miró has used a limited selection of colors, applying them in bold, unmodulated planes that unify the composition, imparting a sense of control onto the frenzied, fearful images that dominated his subconscious.