Jacques Dupin has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Miró completed the twenty-third and last of the landmark series of gouaches on paper he had come to call the Constellations at his family home in Montroig, Catalonia, on 12 September 1941 (Dupin, no. We are grateful to Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville for confirming that this painting is included in their Bernheim-Jeune archives as an authentic work. lowing year, as he settled down into a new sequence of exploratory and experimental works. He hoped to put behind him the anxieties and tribulations of the past two years, in which he and his family had undertaken a veritable odyssey to reach the safe haven of home, as Europe descended into darkness and hopelessness all around him.
The German invasion of France in May 1940 caught Miró, his wife Pilar and daughter Dolores in the English Channel port of Varengeville, where since the beginning the year the artist had been working on the Constellations (Dupin, nos. 628-650). Miró and his family departed for Paris as nearby towns were bombed and advancing German armored columns cut off the retreating Allied forces at Dunkirk. They then fled south, joining the hordes of refugees who clogged the roads, fearful of being strafed and bombed from the sky. As a plan to obtain passage to America came to nothing, Miró and his family made their way to Perpignan, near the Spanish border, where they weighed their limited options.
Miró had been an ardent supporter of the defeated loyalist Republican faction in the Spanish Civil War, which had ended only the year before. He had painted The Reaper (Dupin, no. 556; believed destroyed), a mural dedicated to the steadfast resistance of the Spanish peasant to fascist tyranny, which together with Picasso's Guernica had adorned the walls of the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris. The triumphant general Franco, now the uncontested dictator of Spain, had made any manner of support for the deposed government a crime, and his armed forces and police were ruthlessly hunting down remaining Republican sympathizers in Barcelona, which had been a leading hotbed of loyalist resistance. Miró did not know if his name appeared on Franco's watch list, but he could not take any chances. He needed to lay low before attempting to return to his family estate in Montroig and their apartment in Barcelona.
Pilar's parents made their home in Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Miró decided that this relatively isolated place would be the safest destination for them at the moment, and he took his family there in July 1940. The artist later recounted to an interviewer in 1978, "I came back to Spain in 1940 and I didn't have a thing I kept strictly anonymous and lived in constant fear that everything was going to collapse around me. I painted the Constellations under the impression that I was doing something furtive. I had the feeling they were going to forbid me to paint, that they were going to destroy my brushes the way the Nazis did to Nolde and that I would have to content myself with drawing in the sand or with the smoke from my cigarette" (quoted, in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writing and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 299).
Miró's worst fears went unrealized, and quietly he began to get down to work. On 4 September he painted the first Constellation done in Palma, that is, on Spanish soil (Dupin, no. 638), an auspicious moment. Another three followed by the end of the year, and in the first six months of 1941 he painted a half-dozen more (Dupin, nos. 639- 647). Paul Hammond has written, "However straitened his circumstances, Mallorca offered Miró relative peace and quiet, a roof over his head, blue sky and bluer sea; and it evoked memories of childhood vacations" (in Constellations of Miró, Breton, San Francisco, 2000, p. 47). When finally it seemed reasonably safe, Miró traveled to the mainland and visited Barcelona and Montroig during the summer of 1941, the first time he had been home since the outbreak of the civil war five years earlier. In Montroig he completed the final three Constellations (Dupin, nos. 648-650).
Miró returned to Palma in mid-November and within a few weeks he commenced a new group of works on paper. Miró wrote to his friend E.C. Ricart on 15 February 1942: "I considered it convenient for me to spend some time here in Palma I spend almost all of my time working I see almost no one, and in this way escape without being engulfed by the terrible tragedy of the entire world" (quoted in C. Lanchner, Miró, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 336). He did not paint in oil on canvas, and would not do so with any regularity until 1944. Miró found that working on paper best suited his nomadic and "furtive" existence, and besides, canvas was hard to come by and expensive to purchase. Moreover, the visionary Constellations had provided Miró with a vast reservoir of visual imagery, and they had opened up to him a wide range of techniques that he needed to mull over and carry forward, without mechanically repeating the actual look of this soon-to-become-celebrated series, which were first exhibited in New York in 1945, a few months before the end of the war in Europe. Jacques Dupin has described this burst of renewed activity:
"In 1942 [the Constellations] were followed by a large number of watercolors, gouaches and drawings, characterized by freedom of invention and a marvelous effortlessness [fig. 2]. In this evolution of his art, which was to end in the creation of his definitive style, renewed contact with Spain after five years of absence--with Majorca most especially--was doubtless crucial. They are explorations undertaken with no preconceived idea--effervescent creations in which the artist perfected a vast repertory of forms, signs, and formulas, bringing into play all the materials and instruments compatible with paper. The object of all these explorations is to determine the relationship between drawing and the materials, the relationship between line and space" (in Miró, Paris, 2004, pp. 257-260).
Miró executed Femme et oiseau devant le soleil at the very height of this new rush of creativity. Because of its sheer size--it is among the largest works on paper that Miró made during this period--the sheet has been laid down on board, and any indication on the reverse of the precise date and locale of its execution, as the artist would normally record, has been lost. In his Carnets catalans, a series of working notes he began jotting down in Montroig during July 1941 and continued during the following year, the artist noted that "I have found some paper here for drawing with pastels the quality is very beautiful. I must start with it and enrich it by rubbing more or less hard on it with a pumice stone, surround the drawing with plaster or case-arti [white primer]; in other places spread oil paint with a spatula and use all processes when working on it; watercolor, egg tempera, pastel, etc really respect the material (in M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., p. 183). Miró probably purchased the paper during a trip to Barcelona in February 1942, when he visited his ailing mother. A closely related work, bearing a similar title and using this same type of paper, is dated "Palma Majorque 28-5-1942" (fig. 3). The present work was also probably done in Palma, around the same time, before Miró permanently moved back to the mainland in July 1942.
The imagery seen here is classic Miró: Woman, Bird and Sun. Sidra Stich has pointed out that "Miró extricated woman, bird, sun, moon, and star from the complex webbing of the 'Constellations' and isolated them as forceful, independent images" (in Joan Miró: The Development of a Sign Language, exh. cat., Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis, 1980, p. 49). Dupin noted that "The variations on this extremely simple theme are all the richer, more complex and baffling, because the theme is so elementary" (op. cit., p. 261). The women here wear a telltale glyph composed of a pair of breasts and navel. They appear birdlike with their little wing-like appendages, and an airplane-like bird flies overhead. As in the related work (fig. 3), the disc of the sun glows white hot, in relation to which all else appears as a velvety sea-like blue-green, highlighted with phosphorescent traces of pastel. Miró claimed that his Constellations had been inspired by the sparkling reflections of light on water, and here again he depicts a primal floating, watery cosmos, where all things have their origin, a place of universal, fluid comfort and sustenance to which the human spirit aspires to return, leaving behind all worldly cares.
(fig. 1) Joan Miró, Le passage de l'oiseau divin, Montroig, 12 September 1941. Private collection. BARCODE 24411226
(fig. 2) Joan Miró, Personnage, oiseau, étoiles, Palma, 9 February 1942. Sold, Christie's New York, 3 November 2004, lot 43. BARCODE 23020078
(fig. 3) Joan Miró, Femmes, oiseaux, étoiles, devant le disque solaire, Palma, 28 May 1942. Sold, Christie's New York, 4 May 2005, lot 9. BARCODE 21181221
(fig. 4) Joan Miró in his studio at Passatge del Crédit, 4, Barcelona, 1945. Photograph by Joaquim Gomis. BARCODE 24411219