Private Collection, Paris (by descent from the above. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 12th November 1996, lot 44)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
In Miró’s whimsical and witty composition, a bright red sun is surrounded by four colourful characters and a bird in flight. Such figures, from which Miró created a unique poetic language, persisted in many variations throughout his career as a painter, sculptor, ceramicist and print maker. He first introduced the motif of a woman with a bird, in a realistic manner, in his paintings of 1917, it was only after his celebrated Constellations series of 1940-41, in which women, birds and stars feature prominently, that this theme became the primary subject of his art (fig. 1). Commenting on this subject matter, the artist himself pronounced: ‘It might be a dog, a woman, or whatever. I don’t really care. Of course, while I am painting, I see a woman or a bird in my mind, indeed, very tangibly a woman or a bird. Afterward, it’s up to you’ (J. Miró & Georges Raillard, Ceci est la couleur de mes rêves, Paris, 1977, p. 128).
Jacques Dupin has referred to the period from 1952 to 1954 in Miró’s work as the years of ‘expansion’ during which he turned increasingly to the graphic arts, ceramics and mural and architectural compositions as a way of broadening his field of experimentation and reaching a larger audience. Yet ‘he did not turn his back forever on the perspectives of “painting-painting”, but sought even more direct and powerful means of expansion within these perspectives’ (J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 291). Miró was always interested in exploring different materials and textures as an integral part of his painting, and the present work is no exception. The cloth-like background on which the gouache is executed was specially devised for this composition by offsetting a pattern first created by glueing four sections of fabric to another sheet of paper and transferring this pattern to stone. This provided Miró with a surface which was visually rich, while at the same time smooth enough not to disrupt the gouache of his carefully composed and meticulously painted figures.
Personnages et oiseau devant le soleil was chosen as a design for the lithograph produced to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Atelier Mourlot, a printing studio run by several generations of the Mourlot family. In the first half of the twentieth century, Atelier Mourlot became distinguished for its production of fine art, limited edition lithographs by artists such as Vlaminck and Utrillo. In the 1930s Fernand Mourlot started collaborating with a new generation of artists working in Paris, including Miró, Matisse, Picasso and Braque. It was in homage to his friend and colleague that Miró created this virtuosic composition. He gave the gouache to Jean Célestin – an assistant who monitored the proofs of all of Miró’s lithographs at Mourlot’s studio – to whom this work is dedicated. It remained in Célestin’s family until it was sold at auction in 1996, and has since then been in the collection of the present owners.
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