In Miró's most successful work, his remarkable visual vocabulary strikes a perfect balance between abstraction and image-signs. There is always energy and movement in these pictures and never a sense of stasis. Moreover, each work is the result of active and ongoing improvisation that renders a precise interpretation impossible. In the early 1950s, Miró employed a wide variety of techniques and media, often enhancing the texture of his medium to obtain unusual stylistic effects. In the present work, the artist applies a thick layer of oil to the surface of the canvas in bold strokes of black, white, green, blue and red while adding notes of other coloration in light, spritzed passages scattered throughout. This technique adds another dimension to the otherwise flat medium of oil on canvas; although the work seems to arise from the abstract realm of imagination, there is still present an adherence to the signs and forms that can be found throughout the artist's oeuvre.
When Miró painted the present composition in 1952, he had already become acquainted with the new techniques and aesthetic agenda of the Abstract Expressionists. He first saw their work in New York in 1947, and the experience, the artist would later recall, was like a "blow to the solar plexus." Several young painters, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, were crediting Miró as the inspiration behind their various abstract approaches, and American artist like Alexander Calder already owed a profound debt to the Spanish artist (see fig. 2). In the years that followed, Miró created works that responded to the enthusiasm of this new generation of American painters and the spontaneity of their art, but, as evident in the present work, retained a loyalty to his own artistic pursuits. "For me form is never something abstract," he said at the end of the 1940s, "it is always a sign of something. It is always a man, a bird, or something else. For me painting is never form for form's sake" (quoted in Margit Rowell, Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 207).
In 1959 Robert Motherwell (see fig. 3) penned an essay for Artnews entitled “The Significance of Miró” in which he explored, among other facets of the artist’s work, Miró’s painting process: “How Miró makes a painting is interesting…. The whole process is pervaded throughout by an exquisite ‘purity,’ that is, by a concrete and sensitive love for his medium that never distorts the essential nature of the medium, but respects its every nuance of being, as one respects someone one loves…. The painting medium is essentially a rhythmically animated, colored surface-plane that is invariably expressive, mainly of feelings or their absence… The expression is mainly the result of emphasis, is constituted by what is emphasizes, and, more indirectly, by what is simply assumed or ignored…. There are not many painters as sensitive to the ground of the picture at the beginning of the painting-process as Miró—Klee, the Cubist collage, Cézanne watercolors, Rothko come to mind…. When Miró has made a beautiful, suggestive ground for himself, intentionally the picture is half-done…. Miró’s miracle is not in his brushing, but in that his surface does not end up heavy and material, like cement or tar or mayonnaise, but airy, light, clean, radiant, like the Mediterranean itself. There is art for his creatures to breath and move about him. No wonder he loves Mozart” (R. Motherwell, “The Significance of Miró” in Artnews, New York, May 1959, pp. 65-66).
After it’s debut at Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1953, Peinture would, a decade later, grace the walls of the Tate Gallery and the Zurich Kunsthaus. While the work hung at the Tate, Miró posed in front of it, smiling towards the camera and gesturing with both hands at the picture on the wall behind him. In the catalogue for this exhibition Peinture is described as follows: "Miró's desire to find a language in which signs can be independent of any precise meaning and exist by their hidden power of suggestion, can be appreciated in this painting. There is a spontaneous freedom in the flow of his sensitive line that makes the finality with which shapes find their place on the canvas all the more astonishing…. This is again the result of a combination between complete abandon and masterly control" (Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), 1964, op. cit., p. 44).
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