Jacques Dupin has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Joan Miró's powerful and direct relationship with nature stemmed from a period of convalescence at his family's farm in 1911 at the age of eighteen in the Catalan countryside, south of Tarragona. More at ease here and in the nearby hilltown of Mont-roig than Barcelona, the city of his birth, his love of the land, its life and light, is borne of one intimate with the ebb and flow of nature, as a farmer or peasant might be. He later acknowledged his allegiance and identification with the locals: 'I am much happier...with the farmers of Mont-roig than... among duchesses in great palaces in Paris' (F. Trabal, 'Una conversa amb Joan Miró', La Publicitat, 14 July 1928). Nearly ten years after his initial refuge in Mont-roig, Miró left his beloved countryside and enrolled in art school in Barcelona. And in March of 1920, the artist visited Paris for the first time. Frequent visits to Mont-roig throughout this period underscored his attachment to the farm, the artistic expression which culminated in his most important work to date, La ferme.
Miró began work on La ferme upon his return to Mont-roig in the summer of 1921, following his first Paris one-man exhibition at the Galerie La Licorne, which proved a distinct failure. Undaunted, he responded to the warm embrace of his beloved Catalonia in this synthesis of his earlier works' closely observed realism, inspired by the rhythms of traditional Catalan painting. 'It was need for discipline which forced me to simplify in painting things from nature just as the Catalan primitives did' (J.J. Sweeney, 'Joan Miró: Comment and Interview', Partisan Review, vol. 15, no. 2, Feb. 1948, pp. 206-212). In La ferme, Miró sought to capture in detail his surroundings as they were, the farmer's wife, the ladder, the dog, the rooster, all of individual importance with no hierarchical distinction--prototypes of symbols which would pervade his later works. Miró recognised the importance of this work, marking the end of his realist period, giving him the courage to explore another direction:
'La ferme ...was a summary of one part of my work at the same time the gestation of another part of my work that I was to do later' (J. Miró quoted in J. Dupin, Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1993, p. 160).
Among other artists at the time, Miró stepped forth to address the crisis of expression in painting as articulated by André Breton: 'The old model, culled from the outside world does not exist any more, cannot exist any more. Its successor, from the inner world, has yet to be discovered' (A. Breton, Genèse et perspective artistiques du surréalisme, 1941). In the 1920s, Miró gave reign to his internal spirit of rebellion and fantasy, heightened by the fevered, experimental climate of Paris, but unleashed with confidence in the safe harbour of Mont-roig. There, he produced La terre labourée and Le chasseur (Paysage catalan) concurrently from July 1923 to the early months of 1924. Miró deepened his penetration into the 'absolute of nature' through the stylisation of the Catalan landscape, which now defied perspective, and he began to generate a new language of symbols, particularly evident in the fantastical imagery of Le chasseur. He confided in his friend, Josef Ràfols: 'I have already managed to break free from nature and the landscapes have nothing to do with outer reality. Nevertheless they are more "Mont-roig" than if they had been "done from nature". I will always work in the house and use real life only as a reference... I know I am following very dangerous paths, and I confess that at times I am seized by a panic like that of a hiker who finds himself paths never before explored, but this doesn't last, thanks to the discipline and seriousness with which I am working and, a moment later, confidence and optimism push me onward once again' (quoted in ibid., p. 96). ,
In one of the earliest representations of the Tériade subject matter, in Paysage au coq of 1927, Miró eschews the fantastical for the organic form, with large bold bands of colour representing a balanced division of sky and earth. The rooster, a symbol of fertility, presented in flight, acts as divine messenger. In Le fermier et son épouse of 1936 (sold Christie's New York, 13 Nov. 1989, lot 53) Miró gave voice to his horror at the outbreak of civil war in Spain, a subject he was loathe to discuss. Set against a feverishly coloured Mont-roig landscape, the organic, deformed figures of the farmer and his wife raise their arms in disorientation and panic, each with a misshapen, heavy leg anchoring them to the earth, the other atrophied and limp. The familiar rooster, also rooted to the ground and framed entirely by the saturated, searing red earth, is a figure of extreme fear and aggression. Miró's refusal to become actively involved in politics belied his profound sympathy for the plight of the common people.
The execution of the present work in 1940 was preceded by a tumultuous period of war and disaster, which left an impression on Miró's work. 'The outer world, the world of contemporary events, always has an influence on the painter, that goes without saying. If the interplay of lines and colours does not expose the inner drama of the creator, then it is nothing more than bourgeois entertainment. The forms expressed by an individual who is part of society must reveal the movement of a soul trying to escape the reality of the present, which is particularly ignoble today, in order to approach new realities, to offer other men the possibility of rising above the present... If we do not attempt to discover the religious essence, the magic sense of things, we will do no more than add new sources of degradation to those already offered to the people today, which are beyond number' (J. Miró quoted in Cahiers d'Art, vol. 14, nos. 1-4, April-May 1939).
Le coq was painted in Varengeville-sur-Mer, a village on the Normandy coast where Miró and his family sought refuge from August 1939 to May 1940, the beginning of the Second World War. 'At Varengeville-sur-Mer, in 1939, began a new stage in my work which had its sources in music and nature. It was about the time that the war broke out. I felt a deep desire to escape. I closed myself within myself purposely' (J.J. Sweeney, op. cit.). Miró's rediscovery of the rural tranquility denied him since his exile from Spain underlies the painting of Le coq, reproduced in the second volume of Verve. Nature as inspiration is reinforced by the accompanying text in the magazine: 'This the eighth number of Verve devoted to the nature of France was entirely composed during the war'. The figure of the rooster dominates the landscape, more evocative of Mont-roig than
the Normandy coast, his head tilted upwards, sharp beak open in a defiant cry. Pictorial urgency is heightened through Miró's limited, intense palette of colours. Red vibrates alongside green, while black, as a colour area liberated from its traditional function as shading and contour, acts as a perfect counterbalance. Tension is evoked through the contrast in depth of the flat, saturated yellow earth with the painterly blue sky, the whole piece a mastery in colour on par with Matisse, whom Miró credited with having 'taught us that colour alone...could carry [a picture's] structure through contrasts and subtle juxtapositions' (quoted in J.T. Soby, Joan Miró, New York, 1959, pp. 26-28). Miró conveys hope and optimism through the ,
harmonious balance of black and white, the formation of the horizon as a band of contrasting colours, an extension of the rooster's body, uniting the earth and sky. Within the universal frame of reference, the airy blue of the expansive sky symbolises hope and peace.
Despite world turmoil, Miró's stay in Varengille was highly fruitful. The Constellation series was begun there in January 1940 and completed in September 1941. Although this series and Le coq were painted on paper, most likely due to a scarcity of materials, Miró frequently referred to them as 'paintings' and 'canvases', indicative of the significance accorded them. Indeed their brilliant intensity rivals that of many of his works in oil.
This work is dedicated to Efstratios Eleftheriades (1897-1983), better known as Tériade. Tériade was one of the most influential publishers of the Twentieth Century, as well as an art critic and significant collector in his own right. The artists' books that he published, such as Matisse's Jazz, Miró's Ubu Roi and Daphnis and Chloé by Chagall were amongst the finest of their kinds, and this quality was often the result of the close collaboration and friendship that existed between Tériade and these giants of the Twentieth Century. Tériade had begun his career in the art world, having tired of his legal studies and been drawn to the galleries and to the bohemian and intellectual world of haunts such as Le Dôme, La Coupole and the Café Flore, by working as modern art editor of the celebrated publication Cahiers d'Art, founded by his compatriot Christian Zervos. With Albert Skira, Tériade launched the famous publication Minotaure, whose cover by Picasso remains an icon of the modern era, and later he himself founded Verve. The breadth-- and quality-- of Tériade's collection reflected the breadth of his interests. This collection was in part sold in these rooms in June 2003 at an auction whose proceeds were given by his widow to the Donation Hôpitaux de Paris - Hôpitaux de France.