Peinture (Femme se poudrant) is one of an outstanding group of paintings made between 1949 and 1950 known as the 'slow' paintings that Jacques Dupin has described as amongst 'the most important' in all Miró's career (Jacques Dupin, op. cit., 1962, p. 393).
Executed in the aftermath of Miró's extensive travels in both Europe and America, where, for the first time after the war, he had caught up with old friends and been feted and acclaimed by audiences both old and young, Peinture (Femme se poudrant) is one of an exceptional group of new works made on his return to Barcelona. The widespread acclaim Miró had received on his travels evidently served as a powerful stimulus to produce new work and the years 1949 and 1950 were to prove highly prolific. As Jacques Dupin, Miró's friend, biographer and author of his catalogue raisonné has observed, 'None of the paintings of these years are titled: they are merely dated... (and) form two distinct series that the painter worked on simultaneously; first very elaborate paintings, and the second, completely spontaneous paintings. The former works of incredible precision (defined by Dupin as 'slow' paintings on account of their careful planning and execution), go back after all these years to the miniaturism of The Farm and to the dizzying purity of the Constellations. The others (the 'spontaneous' paintings) by contrast, seem like free improvisations made on the spur of the moment: their rapidity of execution and autonomy of gesture is as inherent in them as patient elaboration is in the more searching or "thorough" paintings. The former are first and foremost "creations", the latter "communications"' (op. cit, p. 393).
Common to both these two different types of paintings from this time but most prominent in the more 'elaborate' and carefully executed 'slow' paintings, is Miró's preparation of the ground. Always of central importance to Miró as the 'earth' from which the sign-like language of his creations would intuitively grow, were the grounds, which in these new works, became ever more remarkable for their intensity, diversity and refinement. 'Nowadays I rarely start a picture from a hallucination as I did in the twenties, or, as later, from collages,' Miró told James Johnson Sweeney while in New York, 'What is most interesting to me today is the material I am working with. It supplies the shock which suggests the form just as cracks in a wall suggested shapes to Leonardo' (Joan Miró, 'Interview with James Johnson Sweeney' in Partisan Review, New York, February 1948).
Peinture (Femme se poudrant) has one of the most varied and spectacular grounds of all these 'slow' paintings. Comprising a variety of poured, splashed and dripped watercolour, gouache and oil paint thinned with turpentine and also thickened in places with large unadulterated lumps of paint, the ground of this painting is a magical field of variant texture and colour that, in the final composition appears to fuse effortlessly with the spidery astral lines of Miró's Constellation-like figures.
According to Dupin, Miró 'rarely displayed such sensuous skill in the treatment of his grounds' as that achieved in these paintings, where 'in a spirit of complete freedom', his 'hand does not impose effects, does not choose colours in advance' but 'serves as a magnetizer to bring out what the material and the grain of the canvas suggest or desire, their secret song' (J. Dupin, op. cit., p. 394).
This 'secret song' is ultimately the product of the unconscious interaction of Miró's fertile imagination and creative drive with the poetics suggested to them by the natural and material chaos of the ground. For Miró, the ground of a painting was, as its name suggests, equated for him with the 'earth', the soil and the roots of his being and identity as a Catalan, while the unconscious 'flight' that his imagination took from this innate source of inspiration became equated with sky and, for him with the path of a bird, taking flight. It is probably for this reason that so many of his graphic creations ultimately take the form of zodiac-like personages materializing from constellations in an amibiguous space caught somewhere between heaven and earth. Miró described the specific nature of his creative practice in these works for French Radio in 1951, stressing the importance of chance as the prompt to his imagination. 'I provoke accidents, a form, a spot of colour. Any accident is good. In the beginning, it's a direct thing. It's the material that decides. I prepare the ground - by cleaning my brushes on the canvas, for example. Spilling a little turpentine can also work quite well. If it's a question of drawing, I crumple the paper. I wet it. The water traces a form... This mark determines what happens next... It is the medium that directs everything. I am against all intellectual research - anything that is preconceived and dead. The painter works like a poet: the word comes before the thought. You don't decide to write about the happiness of men! If you do, you're sunk. Make a scribble. For me, it will be a point of departure, a shock. I attach great importance to the initial shock' (Joan Miró, 'Interview with Georges Charbonnier', French National Radio, 1951, quoted in M. Rowell (ed.), Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 219).
Peinture (Femme se poudrant) is a classic example of the technique Miró describes here, where a wide range of colour and texture has been used to serve as the creative prompt out of which the mysterious but charming family of constellation-like figures has emerged. Also present in this work is an archetypal sense of the mysterious and charming figures that Miró presents being strongly connected to the chaotic and apparently abstract landscape of the ground that has in fact of course, through Miró's interaction, given rise to them. It is in this respect that this work echoes the art of the ancient cave painters at places such as Castillo and Altamira which Miró knew well. As Dupin has written of this aspect of these paintings from 1949 and 1950, 'In them the beauty of the grounds goes hand in hand with the surprising felicity of the handwriting. The subjects tend to evaporate, being no more than pretexts of supports for the song... It is the memory of the walls of a prehistoric cave that is restored to us in all its freshness, and the coloured signs and forms inscribed on it are redolent of the very substance of time... Figures, birds, animals, stars and signs play and combine with one another with an elegance and acrobatic sureness, a casualness in the revelation of mystery and a joy in their nostalgic evocation of a primitive world which together confound the imagination' (Jacques Dupin, op. cit., p. 394).
This magical effect was not arrived at purely by chance however. Peinture (Femme se poudrant) belongs to the group known as the 'slow' paintings because it was created through a gradual and carefully considered process in which Miró planned and determined the shape, position and overall impact of each form and figure as a part of a whole. Seemingly whimsical and the product of spontaneous flight of fancy, Miró's draughtmanship is in fact the result of both careful preparation and intense concentration. As Dupin again observed, 'Miró is perfectly capable - and more so than any other painter - of improvising on the spur of the moment and producing at a single session perfectly successful paintings (proof of this is provided by the second series of this period). But when he paints one of his 'slow' compositions, he calculates the exact location of a sign, the exact curvature of a line down to the last millimeter. He will go back to his preliminary drawing as many times as necessary, doggedly, with a perseverance we could never suspect when we look at the finished canvas, which gives us above all the impression of supreme ease. But we can say that he makes steady progress and gets closer to his objective with each revision, until the feeling of 'certainty' has been obtained and instinctively communicated' (Jacques Dupin, op. cit., p. 395).