Joan Miró's monumental Femme is a powerful celebration of fecundity, primal instincts, and the creation of life. Conceived in 1969, it is one of a small group of large-scale bronzes inspired by Mir's first experiments in sculptural modelling almost two decades earlier. The formal lineage of Femme goes back to the biomorphic creatures that emerged in the celebrated series of Constellations Miró painted in 1940-1941, and in the Barcelona Series of lithographs completed in 1944. The sculpture itself in fact began as a table-top sized figurine in clay, which was created by Miró when he was making ceramics with Josep Llorens Artigas in Barcelona in the late 1940s. This new project was initially confined to dishes, plaques and vases but Miró also began working in clay on his own, creating a few small sculptures of women and birds that looked as though they had stepped out of one of his fantastical paintings. Miró cast his first clay model Femme in bronze at the Fundació V. Gimeno in Barcelona in 1949 (F. Miró and P.O. Chapel, ibid, no. 35, p. 53) and had it enlarged into a moderately sized marble sculpture the same year (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C). These early precedents share all the major features of the present work - the peculiar face with domed protrusions, bulbous torso, stumpy arms and flared skirt - but they also feature arched incisions and a circular platform, possibly out of the necessity to stabilize the smaller sculptures. In 1969 Miró revisited and refined these versions of Femme, creating a robust, larger-than-life figure that could command wide open spaces and withstand the elements.
Femme appears as a monstrous but whimsical Neolithic fertility goddess, with her large conical breasts, protruding buttocks and tear-shaped recess that is a typically Miróesque emblem of her sex. The placement of breasts, vast vaginal crevice and short truncated arms can also be read as an enlarged human face; a duality that seems to illustrate Miró's metamorphic understanding of what he termed humankind's 'true reality,' where 'forms give birth to other forms, constantly changing into something else. They become each other and in this way create the reality of a universe of signs and symbols in which figures pass from one realm to another, their feet touching the roots, becoming roots themselves as they disappear into the flowing hair of the constellations' (J. Miró, 'Statement', in XXe sicle, Paris, June 1957 reproduced in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró - Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 240)
Throughout his artistic career, Miró fixated on the idea of woman as the ultimate generative symbol, connecting her with the fecundity of the earth, with creativity, and the artist's own flights of imagination. This persistent, reoccurring image can be traced back to his Surrealist masterpieces of the 1920s such as Maternit (1924, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) in which a large female figure is rendered by entirely abstract means, stripped back to her basic procreative functions as she nurses two tiny insect-like infants at her breasts. The nurturing, procreative female closely correlates with Miró's organic and vitalist vision and his deep connection to the Catalonian countryside. Indeed, he saw much of his sculpture as bound up in nature, while the bronzes he cast from figures modelled in clay were indebted to the folk ceramics of Mallorca and Catalonia. Like much of the artist's work, Femme departs from representation and reality in an attempt to stimulate the imagination. From raw materials Miró has conjured a new poetry and meaning that evoke unconscious primordial forms and ancient long-forgotten myths.
Miró's sculptures were the crowning achievement of his late career. Although he had created surrealist painting-objects during the late 1920s and 1930s, it was not until a decade later, while he was living in Palma, Montroig and Barcelona during the Second World War, that he considered making large free-standing forms. He wrote in his Working Notes, 1941-1942, jotted down in Montroig: '. . . it is in sculpture that I will create a truly phantasmagoric world of living monsters; what I do in painting is more conventional.' He also noted his desire to build himself a 'big studio, full of sculptures that give you a tremendous feeling of entering a new world . . . unlike the paintings that are turned facing the wall or images done on a flat surface, the sculptures must resemble living monsters who live in the studio - a world apart." (J. Miró quoted in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 175).
The possibility of undertaking larger and more imposing sculptures became a reality when Miró's 'big studio,' about which the artist had dreamed for years, was finally built in 1956, in Palma. He would produce nothing more in bronze until 1966, probably because he was too involved in investigating the possibilities of ceramics, but after that point his work became monumental in scale, executed under his supervision by skilled enlargers. These bronzes can be determined as two distinct types: those that have been modelled in clay and those that have been assembled from found objects. The former tend to be smooth and rounded, swollen with mass and yet despite their great weight they appear light, buoyant, and full of life. The latter are often rough and jagged, or are painted in vibrant, eye-popping colours.
In 1972, David Sylvester observed that Miró was a self-made sculptor, not a born one, having developed his talent for three-dimensional form whilst in his fifties. It was perhaps for this reason, Sylvester explained, that Miró had a 'tendency to put more trust in the given shapes of found objects than in his power to invent forms in the round. Nevertheless, it seems to me that his finest sculptures are mostly among those to which found objects have not contributed - notably, as to bronzes, certain pieces modelled in 1944-1950 and their recent enlargements" (D. Sylvester, Miró Bonzes, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1972, p. 15). With this comment, Sylvester is specifically referring to Oiseau lunaire (1966), Oiseau solaire (1966), and the present work, Femme. Casts of these three magnificent bronzes were recently displayed together in a dedicated space at the landmark Miró: Sculptor exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, thereby uniting Miró's main symbols and preoccupations - women, birds, the energy of the sun, and the mysteries of the night.
Miró's close friend and biographer Jacques Dupin describes how he had initially looked upon the artist's sculptures as works created in conjunction with his better known achievements in painting. However, he eventually revised this view, in light of the scope and scale of the artist's later work in bronze: 'The sculptures from the last two decades of Miró's productive life took on a broad place and force. For Miró, sculpture became an intrinsic adventure, an important means of expression that competed with the canvas and sheet of paper - the domains and artistic spaces proper to Miró - without ever simply being a mere derivative or deviation from painting. Miró's approach and conception of sculpture offered him an immediate contact with a reality that, in painting, was attainable through the screen of an elaborately constructed language' (J. Dupin in Miró, Barcelona, 2004, pp. 361 & 367).
Miró would link his own growing delight in working in three dimensions to his earliest training as an artist. As a young man his tutor Francesc Galí encouraged him to draw objects from touch rather than sight. In 1970, talking to Dean Swanson, Miró described this process and said: 'Galí was a remarkable teacher, and he gave me an exercise so that I would learn to 'see' form: he blindfolded me, and placed objects in my hands, then he asked me to draw the objects without having seen them' (Miró quoted in D. Swanson, 'The Artist's Comments', Mir's Sculptures, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1971, n.p.). This formative experience offered Miró entirely new ways of seeing, feeling, and inventing form and ultimately fuelled his attraction to sculpture in his later years: 'the effect of this touch-drawing returns in my interest in sculpture: the need to mould with my hands - to pick up a ball of wet clay like a child and squeeze it. From this I get a physical sensation that I cannot get from drawing or painting' (Miró quoted in J.J. Sweeney, 'Joan Miró: Comment and Interview' in Partisan Review, New York, February 1948, p. 67).
Miró is one of those very few artists who mastered everything he tried - painting, murals, printmaking, costume design, poetry, sculpture and ceramics. Apart from his compatriot Picasso, no other artist in the 20th century has shown such versatility and invention across so wide a range of media. In order to realise his creative vision exactly, Miró made sure he was involved in every aspect of his sculpture's production. He worked closely with the foundries and distinguished different forms of patina between each of the firms he used. Femme was cast by the lost-wax process at Susse Fondeur in Arcueil. It is one of seven casts that is signed and justified by the artist, and it is the first of three artist's proofs from that edition. Susse Fondeur is one of the oldest foundries in Europe and Miró would often commission them to produce his large, classically modelled sculptures as he greatly admired the dark, polished patina they were able to bestow on them. Additional casts of Femme are held in the collections of the Musée national d'Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.