• The Art Of The Surreal auction at Christies

    Sale 1103

    The Art Of The Surreal

    6 February 2013, London, King Street

  • Lot 129

    Joan Miró (1893-1983)

    Le Sourire nacré devant l'azur

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Joan Miró (1893-1983)
    Le Sourire nacré devant l'azur
    signed 'Miró' (lower right); signed, dated and titled 'MIRÓ. 11/XI/72 LE SOURIRE NACRÉ DEVANT L'AZUR' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    51 1/8 x 76 3/8 in. (130 x 195 cm.)
    Painted on 11 November 1972


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    This work is sold with a photo-certificate from Jacques Dupin and ADOM.



    Pure and precise, Le Sourire nacré devant l'azur possesses the terse simplicity of a Japanese haiku. Black, red and blue ellipses are carefully counterbalanced in a vast and vaporous off-white ground, the surrounding lightness revealing the weight of their forms as if they were planets hung suspended in the celestial void. Painted in 1972, as the irrepressible Miró was about to enter his eighth decade, this extraordinarily understated composition resonates with a metaphysical presence, just as sonorous musical notes might ring out in a silent space. For much of his career, Miró fluctuated between the conflicting creative impulses of dense images awash with a riot of colour, to sparse graphic works that are light-filled and poetic. From moments of restraint to bursts of untamed freedom, there were no rules and no limits, expressed in an enormous oeuvre comprising paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures and ceramics. When Le Sourire nacré devant l'azur was painted, Miró was in a phase of emptying out his canvases once more, stripping his forms to their absolute essentials of colour and shape and giving them room to breath. This could be a result of working primarily with sculpture during this period, which perhaps prompted Miró's desire to do away with delicate and intricate detail for something bolder and more open.

    Miró was much admired by his peers for his keenly sensitivity to colour, texture and composition. As Alberto Giacometti once stated: 'Miró was synonymous with freedom--something more aerial, more liberated, lighter than anything I had seen before. In one sense he possessed absolute perfection. Miró could not put a dot on a sheet of paper without hitting square on the target. He was so truly a painter that it was enough for him to drop three spots of colour on the canvas, and it would come to life--it would be a painting' (quoted in P. Schneider, 'Miró', Horizon, no. 4, March 1959, pp. 70-81). And when Henri Matisse was asked whom he considered a great painter amongst contemporary artists, he answered: 'Miró... because it doesn't matter what he represents on his canvas, but if, in a certain place, he has put a red spot, you can be sure that it had to be there and not elsewhere.... take it away and the painting collapses' (quoted in L. Aragon, Henri Matisse, New York, 1972, p. 147). Indeed, the coloured elements of Le Sourire nacré devant l'azur are held in such a fine balance it is difficult to imagine the absence of a single shape. The seemingly barren ground also displays the painters virtuosity as it is animated by vigorous, uniform brushstrokes, and diffuses tints towards the edges of the canvas that make the centre appear subtly brighter.

    The extremely minimal nature of the present work harks back to Miró's highly celebrated 'dream' paintings executed between 1925-1927. His association with the Surrealist artists and poets in Paris had been decisive in eliciting an interest in the mysterious workings of the unconscious and an impulsive, spontaneous form of artistic creation. What followed was a suite of paintings populated by an enigmatic kind of pictorial writing set against an almost mystical expanse of emptiness. Miró has said of these works that he wanted to give them 'an astral quality' and towards this end he sought to paint signs that 'no longer showed the pull of gravity' but which floated like calligraphic ciphers on their infinite blue or white backgrounds. 'I escaped into the absolute of nature,' said of these works. 'I wanted my spots to seem open to the magnetic appeal of the void, to make themselves available to it. I was very interested in the void, in perfect emptiness' (quoted in Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Margit Rowell ed., London, 1987, pp. 264-5). Miró famously inscribed near a blue spot in one such painting 'This is the color of my dreams,' and it is this same azure hue we see hovering serenely in Le Sourire nacré devant l'azur.

    The clarity of Miró's reductive method was greatly admired by a new generation of American painters as it represented a link between the fabled surrealism of the inter-war decades and their own post-war developments. In November 1941 the first retrospective exhibition held anywhere devoted to the work of Joan Miró opened to the public at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. This exhibition had a major and timely impact on many young artists who were beginning to make their reputations in New York, including Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hoffmann and Barnett Newman. Upon his first journey to the United States in 1947, Miró was delighted to learn that his work had been exerting a strong influence on American artists. His example had helped guide them toward authentically instinctive forms of abstraction, in which they were encouraged to draw freely on a spiritual and an emotional core within their own lives. The exchange of ideas that transpired during his subsequent sojourns in 1959, 1961 and 1964 was reciprocal: Miró came away enriched as well. Inspired by the dramatically large-scale open field style of painting pioneered by such artists as Pollock, Rothko, and Kline, Miró confronted his work with renewed intensity and celebrated the power and richness of colour with a freedom he had never shown before. American Painting, Miró admitted, had 'showed me a direction I wanted to take but which up to then had remained at the stage of an unfulfilled desire. When I saw these paintings, I said to myself, you can do it, too: go to it, you see, it is O.K.! You must remember that I grew up in the school of Paris. That was hard to break away from' (quoted in ibid., p. 279).

    No less an influential factor on Miró's work of the late 1960s and early 1970s were the style and techniques of Japanese painting and calligraphy. In the fall of 1966 Miró made his first trip to Japan, on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition that was seen in Tokyo and Kyoto. Miró drew inspiration from this trip to focus his imagery into concentrated and unified gestures of black paint that resemble the expressive characters in Japanese calligraphy. Miró declared to Margit Rowell in 1970, 'I was fascinated by the work of the Japanese calligraphers and it definitely influenced my own working methods. I work more and more in a state of trance, I would say almost always in a trance these days. And I consider my painting more and more gestural' (quoted in op. cit., p. 279). In Le Sourire nacré devant l'azur, Miró has perfected an eloquence of style and a fierce simplicity of means that can be likened to the art of Zen painting. It is in works such as this that Miró demonstrates how the intuitive methods he derived from the Surrealist movement, now brought forward several decades, continued to serve him well, by encouraging an open and searching approach that enabled him to absorb and adapt the techniques of younger artists and other cultures to his own pictorial ends.

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


    Provenance

    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
    Acquavella Galleries, New York.
    Claude Kechichian, Paris.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000.


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION


    Literature

    A. Cirici, Miró-Mirall, Barcelona, 1977, no. 254, p. 226.
    J. Dupin & A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue Raisonnó. Paintings, vol. V, 1969-1975, Paris, 2003, no. 1470, p. 106 (illustrated).


    Exhibited

    Paris, Grand Palais, Joan Miró, May - October 1974, no. 124.
    Yokohama, Museum of Art, Joan Miró. Centennial Exhibition: The Pierre Matisse Collection, January - March 1992, no. 104, p. 142 (illustrated).