This work is sold with a photo-certificate from Jacques Dupin.
When Miró painted this powerful, extraordinarily large and richly detailed composition on paper in the spring of 1937, he had already received, in late April, a commission from the Spanish Republican government to execute a mural for his country's pavilion at the 1937 Paris World's Fair. The inescapable events of the day dictated that he choose a subject related to the civil war in Spain, which had been raging for almost a year. The conflict was going badly for the Loyalist forces fighting for the left-wing government, with whom both Miró and Picasso openly sympathized. Picasso had been considering since January ideas for the mural he had been asked to paint, and his subject suddenly came to him on 26 April, when German war planes supporting General Franco's insurgent Nationalist armies bombed the defenseless Basque town of Guernica. Picasso began his preliminary studies on 1 May and completed his Guernica in June. Meanwhile, Miró began work on his mural, Le faucheur (The Reaper, Catalan Peasant in Revolt), which he completed in early July, just days before the delayed inauguration of the Spanish Pavilion.
Grande composition avec personnages shares Le faucheur's anti war, anti-tyranny themes. A goose-stepping male figure at left, emblematic of Franco's minions, is about to trample a mother, holding a baby, seated in front of him. She is the startled witness to a huge explosion, suggested by the wildly brushed wash background, in which some figures have been literally blown to bits. Another male figure hurtles downward, torpedo-like, from the sky. Indeed, this work may be Miró's response to the bombing of Guernica, or more generally to the countless other outrages suffered by the civilian population in Spain. The tenebrous mood of menace and the depiction of atrocity recall the precedent of an earlier Spanish master, Francisco Goya's Los Desastres de la Guerra, his outcry against the horrors of war, which he drew and etched in 1810-1820. Goya's prints inspired Picasso's The Dream and Lie of Franco, a serial strip of images he etched in January and June 1937. Goya's spirit also informed Miró's works on paper during the anguished months of the spring and summer of that year, when the news from Madrid and Barcelona was hopeful one day, and fearful the next.
In an interview with Georges Duthuit, published in Cahiers d'Art in 1936, following the outbreak of the war, Miró said, 'I am pessimistic, tragically pessimistic. No illusions are permitted. There will be a struggle against everything that represents the pure value of the spirit' (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 154). Jacques Dupin has characterized Miró's mood during this period as 'tragic realism', which he overcame through his prodigious imagination and manifold powers of invention.
Grande composition avec personnages has an illustrious provenance, coming from the collection of Israel and Selma Rosen, a forward thinking and courageous couple from Baltimore, who were most actively buying modern art in the 1940s to the late 1960s. Their collection included some gems of Modernism, like Léger's La partie de cartes, painted in 1915 by the artist on the lid an ammunition crate; Klee's Scene am Wasser, a poetic watercolour of 1922, and the shimmering Blue over Red, by Rothko, painted in 1953.