Miró has offered in Femme, monument an exalted, sublime vision of the human figure, pure and emblematic in its essential forms, dedicated to the powerful omnipresence and glory of womanhood, l’éternel féminin. “It is as if it were perfectly apparent that an egg, precariously balanced on a piece of soap with an egg-shaped hole worn through it, would be the clear and accurate image erected by our subconscious desire, on some street corner,” Jacques Dupin described Femme, monument. “A noble but ambiguous goddess figure, a double mirror reflecting both the emptiness and the fullness that we hold up to it. The simplest in structure, the most complex in its magical effect, this work is also the most propitious introduction to all of Miró’s sculptures” (quoted in Miró in Montréal, exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1986, p. 49).
The large sculptures that Miró created during the final two decades of his life, between 1962 and 1982, the year before his death, are–by dint of their imposing presence, their titanic scale–the crowning works of his career. The impetus to create sculpture, as we normally construe the term, came relatively late to the artist. The surrealist painting-objects that Miró devised during the late 1920s and 1930s from the assemblage of ordinary things stemmed not so much from a desire to create any particular kind of plastic expression, but in accordance with the artist’s avowed agenda to instigate “the assassination of painting,” and arrive at a radical, unprecedented state of “anti-painting” (quoted in A. Umland, Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008, p. 2).
It was not until a decade later, while Miró was living in Palma, Montroig and Barcelona during the Second World War, that he considered making free-standing sculptures, “to create a link with the rest of my production and with nature’s real objects” (M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 176). He discovered during the post-war period a special joy in making ceramics with Josep Artigas. The idea of creating larger and more significant free-standing pieces–not as objects but as sculpture, in which he composed mass and volume in space–became an imperative he could no longer resist. Lacking only was a large area in which to work, the “big studio” of which he had dreamed since the 1930s. The completion in 1956 of the capacious atelier that José Lluís Sert designed and built for him in Palma, Mallorca, finally afforded Miró that space, as well as a huge window on the world, from which he drew inspiration and the strength of his power to create. He wished to reciprocate this process by creating an art that existed in the world, to “take my sculptures outdoors,” as he said, “so they blend into the landscape” (quoted in ibid., p. 175).
“Miró had formed the desire to leave the laboratory behind, to go beyond easel painting for the sake of a new space, and more impersonal sites, less confined and protected than those of the studio,” Dupin explained. “He dreamt of the street, public squares, gardens and cities. Just as he had always sought to transgress painting, he now sought to transgress his own work, to cross over the boundaries of walled galleries and museums. He wanted to address his work to anonymous crowds, to the unknown viewer... In various sites, Miró began erecting murals and sculpted figures, for everyone and anyone. One starts off by modeling a figurine in clay...and winds up erecting a city monument” (op. cit., 2012, p. 367).
Numerous bronzes soon began to stream forth from Miró’s studio via the Susse, Parallelada, Clementi and Bonvicini foundries. These works comprise two distinct types: those he initially modelled in clay, and others assembled from found objects, or “raw materials” as the artist called them. The former are usually smooth and rounded, swollen with mass; in their great weight they project an iconic presence. The latter, by contrast, are often rough and jagged, with every appearance of having been freely improvised in their conception.
Some of the monumental bronzes were first executed in smaller maquette size and enlarged. The present Femme, monument, however, appears to have proceeded straight from the artist’s notebook. A quickly sketched line drawing dated “2/2/68” is inscribed “Monument” and indicates a provisional height of 262 cm. (103 1/8 in.) (the cast bronze sculptures are 251 cm. (98 ¾ in.) tall). A second undated drawing clearly states the theme Miró had in mind—“Monument à la Femme” (see G. Moure, Miró Escultor, exh. cat., Centro Reina Sofía, Madrid, 1986, p. 141). The artist’s conception is here very clear. He viewed the ovoid head perched atop the lintel of the four-sided frame as the positive, volumetric manifestation of the empty, negative space enclosed within the lower part of the sculpture, as if raised up and posited on high.
The egg-like head of Miró’s Femme, monument derives from the earthenware L’oeuf he created with Artigas in 1963 (Miró and Artigas, no. 341), which is today placed on a platform in a reflecting pool on the grounds of the Fondation Maeght. The simplicity of the two fundamental plastic elements in Femme, monument is a formal decision which may signal Miró’s acknowledgement of American Minimalism during the late 1960s, a movement which various of his own earlier works, going back to the mid-1920s, had in fact anticipated and influenced. Miró’s foray here into the Minimalist aesthetic, however, avoids even the least suggestion of geometry, symmetry or any other aspect of formal regularity. Indeed, the most visually intriguing phenomenon in Femme, monument is the delicate balance of the head on the lintel; from various viewpoints, the egg appears to tilt so perilously that one anxiously imagines that even a sudden gust of wind, or the slightest subterranean tremor, might topple it.
Femme, monument is in its formal constitution a masterstroke of discretion, carefully gauged understatement and restraint, qualities that empower this sculpture, as a symbol of the human form–and especially the female body–to evoke manifold associations, ranging from the most inward, visceral emotions to the outermost reach of transcendental thought and vision. The pierced, open form of this sculpture is a portal through which the one may peer into the inner self, or gaze to the far horizon of the world around us. Throughout the history of modernist sculpture, from Archipenko, Lipchitz, and Brancusi to Moore and Hepworth, “there is no more certain and no more evocative trap than a simple circular hole,” Dupin observed.
“It may equally be a bottomless empty well, the crater of a volcano, a mouth, an eye or the sun,” he explained. “It contains an ambiguity similar to the dual significance we find in concave and convex surfaces. The convex surface of an egg hides the swelling germination of life... It is strange that in our instinctive desire to conquer space, even before we are launched into it by our mothers, we begin to form an enclosure for ourselves. Beginning with the egg we stake our claim for our habitation in space... [Miró’s] hollow sculptures are a eulogy to hollowness and the gentle protection that this emptiness can provide” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1986, pp. 34 and 35).
In light of Dupin’s pronouncement that Femme, monument is “the most propitious introduction to all of Miró’s sculptures”, casts from the edition have been widely exhibited. Five are in institutional collections: The Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence; City of Palma, Mallorca; and the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona.