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    Sale 1994

    Impressionist And Modern Art Evening Sale

    6 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 2

    Joan Miro (1893-1983)

    Untitled (Personnages, étoiles)

    Price Realised  


    Joan Miro (1893-1983)
    Untitled (Personnages, étoiles)
    gouache, brush and India ink on paper
    12 5/8 x 18 in. (32 x 45.7 cm.)
    Executed in 1953

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    Pierre Matisse gave Miró a one-man exhibition in his New York gallery in November to December 1953 in which he included virtually all of his recent paintings, about sixty in all. The catalogue text was written by James Johnson Sweeney, the director of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Miró may have painted the present gouache in conjunction with several lithographs that he executed to illustrate the catalogue.

    This gouache is notable for its unusual all-over spotted look, in which Miró applied many large and small dots by dipping his fingertips in wet paint and dabbing the color onto the sheet. He appears to have brushed on the thick black graphic elements first, added the spots of color and then applied a few flourishes in black ink with a fine brush. This swirling network of multi-colored spots recalls the bead-like forms of color that Miró attached to the meandering tendrils which enliven and unify the surface in many of the works in his famous Constellations series of 1940-1941.

    Miró also used his fingertips to create dotted lines and patterns in the largest and most important painting that he executed in 1953, a work he simply titled Peinture, which Sweeney acquired for The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Dupin, no. 927). The use of dotted lines looks back to a similar effect that Miró employed in a small number of paintings he made during the summer of 1938, including La caresse des étoiles (lot 33). Taking the idea of the fingerprint motif a step further, Miró pressed his entire paint-covered handprint on to the canvas in two paintings done in 1953 (Dupin, nos. 996-997). He continued the use of dotted lines and spotted surfaces in paintings he made during the following year.

    The subject in the present gouache is familiar from many oil paintings and works on paper: Miró has included here two black stars, two personages, and in the black cloud-like shape at lower right, a third star in white that hovers over a sleeping bird form. While some of the spots appear to have been applied randomly, most appear to follow the contours of the black elements or cluster closely around them, as in the forms seen in the Guggenheim oil Peinture. The overall effect, a kind of latter-day pointillism, suggests a cosmic dimension, or the atomic particles that comprise all matter.


    Pierre Matisse, New York (acquired from the artist).
    By descent from the above to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from a Private Collection

    Pierre Matisse & Modernism in America

    Modestly deflecting the praise that this legendary dealer deserved for shaping the career of so many artists and ultimately the face of modern art, Pierre Matisse often remarked "My artists made me" (quoted in J. Russell, Matisse, Father and Son, p. 7).

    Born in 1900, Pierre Matisse was the youngest son of Henri Matisse and Amélie Parayre and practically grew up in the studio of his father. Surrounded by these hallmarks of modernism and innovations in color application, Pierre developed a discerning and unique artistic eye. After a brief foray as an artist, Pierre embarked on his own path in a new country with the brave ambition of bringing European contemporary art to America. When Pierre arrived in New York City in 1924 there were just a few galleries and absolutely no museums taking the risk of showing contemporary art. By 1929 the Museum of Modern Art was established, followed two years later by the Whitney Museum of American Art, radically shifting the public's attention to modernism in the public sphere. In October 1931, Pierre boldly opened the doors of the Pierre Matisse Gallery in the Fuller Building on 57th Street, where he would remain until his death in 1989.

    Pierre Matisse can be credited as one of the pioneers of contemporary art in the United States, his distinction among these pioneers being his staunch support and promotion of young European artists. While his gallery got off to a start with exhibitions of more established artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, André Derain and even his father, he soon began holding shows of completely unknown, emerging artists including Joan Miró, Balthus, Alberto Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet.

    Pierre was responsible for introducing the young painter Miró to America in 1932, and would remain his dealer and close friend for over five decades, supporting and promoting the artist's diverse output over his lifetime (see lot 2 and lots __ in the Impressionist and Modern Art Day sale and lots __ in the Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper sale). In 1945, Pierre mounted the revolutionary exhibition of Miró's Constellations series, which had been painted rather covertly and unseen by practically anyone until their arrival in New York. Pierre also championed Giacometti in America, holding a landmark retrospective of the artist's sculpture, paintings and drawings in 1948, in which lot 1 was exhibited. Giacometti showed his gratitude toward his esteemed dealer writing in a letter to him, "What a life I have, thanks to you!" (quoted in ibid., p. 146.). Pierre also introduced another unfamiliar artist to America--Jean Dubuffet--ignoring the critics and public in Europe who dismissed his Art Brut style as savage and unappealing; and who would later be seen as one of the most pivotal artists of the century (see cover lot in Post-War and Contemporary Morning sale, May 14th). Pierre's stable of artists later included Marc Chagall, Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta, Wifredo Lam and Alexander Calder, to name a few.

    Not only was Pierre Matisse passionately dedicated to the careers of his artists, he worked assiduously to educate and challenge the top collectors and museum directors of his day. His influence on the history of modernism is witnessed in nearly every major private and public collection of 20th century art. Christie's is honored to offer a select group of works in our spring Impressionist and Modern Art and Post-War and Contemporary Art sales that were once championed by Pierre Matisse and have remained in his family ever since.

    Photograph of Pierre Matisse sitting for Alberto Giacometti, circa 1949. BARCODE 25012637

    Photograph of Pierre Matisse, Pilar Miró, Patricia Matisse and Joan Miró, circa 1956. BARCODE 25012651

    Photograph of Jean Dubuffet by Arnold Newman, 1956. BARCODE 25012552