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    Sale 1995

    Impressionist And Modern Art Day Sale

    7 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 437

    Joan Miro (1893-1983)

    Grande figure debout

    Price Realised  


    Joan Miro (1893-1983)
    Grande figure debout
    signed 'Miró ARTIGAS' (on the left side of the base)
    hand-painted terracotta with pebbles
    Height: 38 1/8 in. (96.8 cm.)
    Executed in 1956; unique

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    Having created a unique visual lexicon in the realm of painting, during the final years of the Second World War Miró developed an interest in ceramics and entered into close collaboration with the Spanish potter Josep Llorens Artigas. Artigas and Miró had been close friends since 1912, when both were enrolled at the art school run by Francesc Galí in Barcelona. The two young students had been founding members of the Grupo Courbet, a loose association of artists, and maintained their friendship following Miró's relocation to Paris in 1920.

    When Miró approached Artigas in the early 1940s and suggested that the two work together, the ceramist had his reservations about collaborating with his friend. Though Miró had made some Surrealist constructions using found objects during the 1930s, he was, above all, a painter, and inexperienced at adorning forms in the round. Though concerned that Miró would have difficulty adapting to the unique demands of ceramics and would view the three-dimensional forms simply as surfaces to be decorated, Artigas was ultimately persuaded to join forces with his old friend. From 1944 to 1946, the two produced several large vases and countless decorative tiles fired by Artigas and decorated by Miró. As the Spanish painter grew increasingly comfortable with the medium, he became more responsive to its inherent surface qualities. Abandoning the painterly approach which characterized his early gem-like tiles, he began to commission more daring three-dimensional shapes from Artigas and resisted the urge to neutralize the textured surface of the clay or terracotta with coats of enamel.

    Miró again worked with Artigas from 1953-1956, initially on a series of sculptures collectively labeled Terres de grand feu. The series explored the prevalence of natural shapes in everyday objects--cups, plates, and other varied forms. Miró was by now sufficiently comfortable in the medium to create his own models using found objects and clay, which Artigas would subsequently fire on his behalf. The present work dates from this second period of collaboration, and demonstrates Miró's heightened interest in the use of found materials as well as his mature resistance to overt adornment of any kind. Its title, Grande figure debout, transforms an otherwise seemingly abstract assemblage into a whimsical humanoid being. With a tiny u-shaped head, outstretched arms, a triangular torso, a distinctly human pelvis, and two unmistakable legs, the abstracted human form of Grande figure debout is exemplary of Miró's ever-present comic insights and exaggerated representation of the human figure. In a departure from his earlier ceramic experiments in which adornment played a dominant role, the present work is devoid of obvious ornamentation. Here, the terracotta has been painted, but in such a way as to resemble distressed, oxidized metal. Small pebbles have been incorporated into the base, heightening the rough surface quality of the terracotta. As in Miró's painted oeuvre, with its unique visual vocabulary, the overall effect of Grande figure debout is at once sophisticated and primitive, cerebral and intuitive.

    (fig. 1) Installation view of Miró-Artigas exhibition with the present lot at Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1956. BARCODE 25012644


    Galerie Maeght, Paris.
    Pierre Matisse, New York (by 1956).
    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 yet distinctly 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 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale and lots 437, 439, 440 and 441 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Day sale and lots 161, 162, 163, 165 and 166 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 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale was exhibited (see also lot 438 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Day sale). 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 defiantly 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, Wilfredo 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 and Post-War and Contemporary Art sales that were once championed by Pierre Matisse and have remained in his family ever since.


    J. Pierre and J. Corredor-Matheos, Céramiques de Miró et Artigas, Paris, 1974, p. 205, no. 48 (illustrated, p. 38).
    F. Miralles, Llorens Artigas, Barcelona, 1992, p. 308, no. 777.
    J. Punyet Miró and J. Gardy Artigas, Joan Miró, Josep Llorens Artigas, Ceramics: Catalogue raisonné 1941-1981, Paris, 2007, p. 105, no. 104 (illustrated in color).


    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Joan Miró and Josep Llorens Artigas, Sculpture in Ceramic: Terres de grand feu, December 1956, no. 10 (illustrated).
    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Joan Miró, Painted Sculpture and Ceramics, May-June 1980, no. 13 (illustrated in color).
    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Joan Miró and Josep Llorens Artigas, Terres de grand feu, November-December 1985, no. 4 (illustrated in color).