This work is sold with a photo-certificate from Jacques Dupin.
‘A painting, after all, comes from an excess of emotions and feelings. It’s nothing more than a kind of evacuation’.
Floating within a dappled sea of enigmatic colour, a delicate, whimsical group of black lines and forms dance across the composition of Joan Miró’s Musique. Like musical notes that have floated from the score and morphed in the air to become lyrical, mysterious cypher-like symbols, these abstract shapes flowed from the artist’s subconscious, a new language of signs, and a distinctive pictorial language. Executed on 30th July 1935, in Montroig, Musique is one of a series of gouaches that Miró created throughout the summer of this year, all of which depict near abstract compositions of floating forms against textured backgrounds of washes. Unlike the fearsome monsters that poured uncontrollably from the artist’s imagination onto his canvases at this time, in Musique, the terrifying realities of impending war are absent. Instead, Miró has rendered a magical, imaginary realm that defies logic and understanding; a far away vision or a figment of a dream.
As Europe moved ever closer to the outbreak of War, Miró was, at the time he created Musique, increasingly affected by the heightening tensions and escalating violence that were engulfing the Continent, particularly in his native Spain, which stood on the brink of Civil War. The intense angst and unease that the artist felt was increasingly reflected in his art, which became the site of a fervently expressionistic and subjective outpouring of his anguish. In 1934, the year before he executed Musique, he had created a series of pastels entitled Tableaux sauvages or ‘Savage paintings’, each one presenting a haunting, luridly coloured, and distorted monster-like figure. From this point onwards, as Jacques Dupin, friend and biographer of the artist, described, ‘no matter what Miró set out to do, his brush conjured up nothing but monsters’ ( J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 265). The human figure particularly became the site of innumerable deformations and distortions, prophetic, foreboding prefigurations of the violence that the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War would inflict.
In contrast to these menacing images, Musique, and the other gouaches that Miró executed this summer, show no trace of the monsters that had asserted themselves so prominently within the art of this period. Overwhelmed by how forcefully these terrifying motifs flowed from his subconscious, Miró attempted to stem their insurgence, purposefully turning away from the nightmare that was reality, and edging towards abstraction. ‘The gouaches done during the summer of 1935’, Dupin explained, ‘have shown us how Miró was sometimes surprised and overwhelmed by the images of terror that now pursued him… We saw, too, how sometimes he succeeded, by force of will or by trickery, to drive them away or otherwise get free of them…’ (Dupin, ibid., p. 285).
Miró’s desire to escape these haunting images is particularly evident in Musique. Blissfully floating against a background of watercolour, dappled with delicate sprays and spots of colour, an invented language of signs and forms coalesces across the surface of Musique. ‘The invention of signs, the birth of forms take place anxiously and fearfully’, Dupin has written, ‘The grounds are storm-coloured: heavy, murky skies sweep by in a free, almost automatized place of watercolour. Spots, splashes, and smudges, the sprays and the mists animate the surface discreetly and skilfully. This last seems to convey the expectant twilight before the artist intervenes and decides which figures are to be permitted, which denied form’ (Dupin, ibid., p. 282). Any sign of figuration is absent, and the sense of foreboding and frenzied fear that exudes from so many of the artist’s paintings of this time is completely absent. A poetic lyricism and harmony dominates the near-abstract composition, the soft gradations of colour and whimsical delicacy of the interlocking lines creating a serenely enigmatic work.
In the autumn, just after he had completed Musique, Miró was unable to hide from the demons that had invaded his universe and was once again plagued by violent, anguished images, painting a series of works on Masonite and copper that in many ways mark the pinnacle of this ‘savage’ period. Regarded in this context, Musique serves as a moment of escape and lightness, clarity and calm, as if the artist was closing his mind to the horrors he foresaw and instead escaping to another, imaginary world, freed from trauma and fear.
Though fearful about the impending war, Miró was, at the time he executed Musique, enjoying increasing renown and success across Europe and beyond. His work was being exhibited in numerous one-man and group exhibitions in New York, San Francisco, and Paris, amongst others, while his financial situation had stabilised thanks to his relationship with the New York-based dealer, Pierre Matisse. Matisse, who was the original owner of Musique, had first met the artist in 1930, and became his dealer in 1932. The dealer and artist struck up an immediate rapport, writing frequently to one another across the Atlantic. More than just providing vital financial support for the artist, Matisse became a central presence in Miró’s life, and the pair remained extremely close until the artist’s death in 1983.