Miró painted L’Oiseau s’envole vers la zone où le duvet pousse sur les collines encercelées d’or in 1950, around the time he completed Painting (Women, Moon, Birds), lot 104 in this sale catalogue. The artist was then preparing to undertake, in October of that year, the second of his major post-war commissions for sites in the United States, the nearly 20-foot-wide (593 cm.) Peinture murale for the recently built Harkness Commons Graduate Center of the Harvard University Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Dupin, no. 893).
The present painting possesses a distinctively poetic title, in effect, a succinct and musically alliterative, almost haiku-like poem, which Jacques Dupin – himself a major poet in France during the post-war era – translated as The Bird Flies Off to Where Down Grows on the Gold-Rimmed Hills (cat. rais., op. cit.). For the sake of convenient brevity, the title in French for the present painting has been abbreviated in this essay to L’Oiseau s’envole. Such lengthy titles, when one encounters them in Miró’s oeuvre, immediately enrich one’s understanding and enjoyment of the painting itself. They indeed fall into an uncommon category of their own, when compared to the typically brief appellations which the artist far more often bestowed upon his creations, those titles of a straightforwardly descriptive variety, in many cases listing such component elements as femme, étoile and oiseau, or simply and matter-of-factly declaring the work to be a peinture, without further elaboration.
In this composition Miró celebrates the enchantment of childhood, as he likely observed this charming phenomenon in the growth of his only child, his daughter Maria Dolores, born in 1931 and in 1950 already a young woman. Amid mysterious dolmen-like structures, landmarks from worlds past, the girl-child in L’Oiseau s’envole is about to catch a falling star, the gift perhaps of the mage-like bird (a figure related to the similarly winged creature at far left in the Harvard Peinture murale), which is about to take flight and return to the luminous infinitude in the distance, the gold-rimmed hills of a fabled paradise. L’Oiseau s’envole shares this delightful sense of wonderment with another canvas done around this time, La Petite blonde au parc d’attractions (Dupin, no. 889).
Miró’s use of such longer titles is neither a casual adornment, nor a superficial veneer on the surface of his paintings; indeed, this poetic inclination goes straight to the very heart of his process in the creation of art, and becomes profoundly embedded in his work from the 1920s onward. The interviewer Rafael Santos Torroella noted in a 1951 discussion with Miró, ‘I know you’re an avid reader of poetry, that that’s practically all you read’ (M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 227). To Georges Charbonnier, in a conversation broadcast on French National Radio, also in 1951, Miró affirmed, ‘The painter works like a poet: the word comes before the thought’ (quoted in ibid., p. 219).
Miró’s creative interest in poetry became apparent soon after he moved to Paris, while working in a studio at 45, rue Blomet, in 1921. He sought out and enjoyed the company of poets, some of whom were his neighbours; they even outnumbered his painter-colleagues. Like many informed readers of the day, he had appreciated the pioneering modern verse of Baudelaire, and the subsequent symbolist works of Verlaine, Laforgue, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud, visionary poets who opened the door for the surrealists’ exploration of the subconscious mind. Miró knew Max Jacob and Pierre Reverdy, who were friends of Picasso, and among the nascent circle of surrealists he was drawn to Antonin Artaud, Robert Desnos, Paul Éluard and Raymond Queneau. During the later 1920s Miró developed his concept of peinture-poésie, in which he investigated the reciprocity of visual and linguistic structures, creating complementary forms comprised of pictorial elements, writing and surface inscription, which became significant means in his strategy of instigating various revolutionary approaches to ‘anti-painting’.
One may compare Miró in his attraction to poetry to his compatriot Picasso, who in 1907, soon after he moved into his studio at the fabled Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre, chalked the words ‘RENDEZ-VOUS DES POÈTES’ on his door (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. II, 1907-1917, New York, 1996, p. 59). The great bulk of Picasso’s collected writings consist of the many pages of freely associative poetry he wrote, initially in a great rush during 1935-1937, and less regularly thereafter until 1959. Rowell has included several of Miró’s full poems in her collection of the artist’s writings, as well as pages listing his tableaux-poèmes and later poem- titles as he wrote them down (op. cit., 1986, pp. 89, 143, 169, 228, 254, 276 and 287).
‘Miró’s imagination found its true form of expression through his contacts with the Dada poets and the Surrealist group,’ Rowell has written. ‘The example of the poets taught him to break apart traditional syntax, use inverted metaphors, invent compacted images with shifting meanings, or assemble incongruous visual motifs… The use of randomness and accident, the free association found in dreams, the dislocation of syntax allowed the poets to achieve an anonymous expression that corresponded to Miró’s ambitions… Once Miró discarded all traditional pictorial conventions, he never returned to them. His paintings would remain free from perspective, gravity, illusions of volume, realistic modeling, shading or color. His images would be schematic and immediate. His syntax would be linear, constellatory, dislocated. He furthermore developed the necessary discipline to capture his images and formulate them with clarity and precision’ (intro., ibid., pp. 11-12).
Each of the Constellations painted in 1940-41 (Dupin, nos. 628- 650) have poetic titles, some lengthier than others. When such titles appear in the sequence of Miró’s work, they usually occur in groups, as if for a time the artist was especially interested in exploring in his work that inner dimension of focus and concentration that the application of such titles suggest. Of approximately twenty-five paintings that Miró completed in 1950, culminating in the Harvard mural, only three bear poetic titles (the present picture; plus Dupin, nos. 886 and 889). These works pre-figure the next group of elaborately titled canvases, which commenced in early 1951 following the completion of the mural, numbering nearly two dozen works in all (Dupin, nos. 894ff). The working method that Miró outlined to James Johnson Sweeney, as cited in the note to Painting (Women, Moon, Birds), lot 104 in this sale, is apparent in L’Oiseau s’envole as well. The present painting moreover displays evidence of a painterly aspect that would assume growing importance in Miró’s manner of execution during the later 1950s, the spontaneous and sweeping gestural stroke, an idea he had been following with great interest in the ‘action-painting’ of American abstract expressionist artists since his stay in New York during 1947. The star of these young American painters was then in its ascendant; when Miró returned to New York in 1952, he witnessed the subsequent triumph of their efforts. The cumulative effect of these experiences, as well as having viewed Pollock’s first solo exhibition in Paris during March 1951, would prove to be transformative for Miró. The new art he had seen, he explained to Margit Rowell in 1970, ‘showed me a direction I wanted to take but which up to then remained at the stage of an unfulfilled desire. When I saw those paintings, I said to myself, ‘You can do it, too; go to it, you see, it is O.K.!’’ (Miró quoted in M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., 1986, p. 279).
After quickly brushing in the background of the canvas that would become L’Oiseau s’envole, leaving open the radiant void on the upper left side, Miró applied freely gestural strokes to create the large graphic signs that mysteriously stake out his composition. He then lastly elaborated the forms of the child and bird. At some point in this procedure, perhaps even wholly unpremeditated in its vigorous early stages, the painter discovered his subject, and from it, the concise poem of a title emerged and carried him forth to the painting’s conclusion.
‘I need a point of departure, whether it’s a fleck of dust or a burst of light,’ Miró explained in an interview with Yvon Taillandier. ‘This gives birth to a series of things, one thing leading to another. And when I give it a title, it becomes even more alive. I find my titles in the process of working… When I’ve found my title, I live in its atmosphere. The title then becomes completely real for me, in the same way that a model, a reclining woman, for example, can become real for another painter. For me, the title is a very precise reality’ (J. Miró, ‘I Work Like a Gardener’, in XXe Siècle, Paris, 15 February 1959, p. 249).