Part abstract void, part lyrical free-form painting and part hand-written stream-of-conscious poetry, Le corps de ma brune is one of the finest and best-known of an extraordinary group of paintings made by Joan Miro in 1925 in which he successfully pushed beyond the conventional boundaries of painting and the picture-plane to create a radical new mental space.
Le corps de ma brune belongs to a fascinating group of paintings known as 'poem-paintings' which are widely regarded as among the finest and most important of all Miro's works. It was in these paintings made over bleak, white, blue and brown painted grounds indicative of the void that the artist attempted to fuse word, image and painterly form into a new free-form expression indicative of an hallucinatory or dream-like state of consciousness. Inspired by his interest in Dada and also by his own immersion in Surrealist literary circles at this time, it was these daringly sparse and at the time deeply provocative paintings of 1925 that first marked the full extent of Miro's breakthrough into an entirely new way of working - one that he would follow for the rest of his life. Foreshadowing the apparent liberation of painting from the picture plane that would later be explored by Jackson Pollock and other artists of the New York School in the 1940s, Miro's breakthrough and establishment of a new pictorial space in these works was also to prove a major influence on much of Pablo Picasso's work in the 1920s. Indeed, recognizing his debt to Miro at this time, Picasso is reported to have said to him 'after me, you are the one who is opening a new door!' (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Joan Mir 'Memories of the Rue Blomet', Margit Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 100.)
As Miro's friend and biographer, Jacques Dupin has written 'The most famous of (these poem-paintings) is undoubtedly Le corps de ma brune pusique je l'aime comme ma chatte habillée en vert salade comme de la grêle c'est pareil, which translates: "The body of my dark-haired woman because I love her like my pussycat dressed in salad green like hail, it's all the same". Identifying the painterly details of the work as a multi-form portrait of 'ma brune', he also describes the pictorial details of the work as follows: 'The serpentine body of the loved one consists of a long white blob that rises like a wisp of smoke, undulating gracefully. The double swelling is the breasts. Having risen, the figure declines gracefully again in one last hazy fall of hair. A white line dribbles down the canvas from the hair; it is cut by a horizontal line ending in two other breasts licked by tongues of flame. The motif of 1924 - perpendicular axes with breasts shown in front and profile views - recurs here, treated in an entirely new manner...All these oneiric paintings possess great erotic suggestive powers. Connected with subjective obsessions and realized at the dictation of the unconscious, they simultaneously unmask and mask, set down and erase, the infinitely varied phantasms of the libido. The consistency of the backgrounds, with their leisurely dribbling blobs of colour or their milky, translucid whiteness, serve perfectly to convey the organic pulsation of space as well as the momentary quivers of deep-seated desires' (Jacques Dupin, Miro, New York, 1993, pp. 126-7).
Le corps de ma brune is one of a group of picture-poems or poem-pictures that Miro created at this time in which seemingly fragmentary words, phrases and images combine against carefully prepared abstract grounds to pictorially create a similar sense of metaphor or multiplicity of meaning as that carried by a Symbolist poem. As in other great paintings from this period such as The Birth of the World, The Policeman, Etoiles en des sexes d'escargot or Sourire de ma blonde for example, here in Le corps de ma brune, Miro's forms have also been left intentionally vague so as to be more lyrically evocative. The breast-like forms of this work can also be interpreted as eyes, for instance. Its hair can also be a body; the body a waterfall of white paint or an abstract form. Similarly, Miro's line has become a lyrical path somehow pictorially echoing the flow of his handwriting so that the loose, languid forms of words and pictures seem to bounce around one another within a magical or mystical space. 'It is only rarely in these works,' Dupin has pointed out, 'that a descriptive approach to reality served as a point of departure It often happens that a figure (or "personage") emerges from the progression of his line, from the effusion of spots Miro created many of these "personages' , but they are always the same uncertain, ghostly white, with a fluctuating , sinuous contour: the only parts insistently developed are the head, the foot, the genitals, or the eye. These "personages" are devoid of all materiality, all corporeal density. Because of their spectral appearance, they seem to be figures yet unborn, still not given life. They ignore the laws of gravitation: they hover in the clouds or glide through liquid or viscous matter. They are the very substance of dreams and hallucinations' Jacques Dupin, Joan Miro, Life and Work, London, 1965, pp. 162-4).
Loose, fluid, and interspersed, these seemingly spontaneous creations were in fact carefully thought-out and planned. Each of these great paintings was worked out in sketch-form in a notebook before Miro began to put brush to canvas. His was a methodical approach to the conjuring of an apparently impulsively-created and undefined dream-like space of multiple meaning. Miro's poem-paintings marked a development from a series of empty-ground canvases in which, evolving from the cipher-like forms first pioneered by his Tilled Field of 1923-4, he had attempted to remove all extraneous painterly detail and illustrative image from his work. Now working directly over these empty painterly grounds, the prompts for the forms of Miro's newer paintings made in the autumn of 1925 derived from ambiguous and often hallucinatory images that Miro had begun to conjure in his mind at this time and then painstakingly kept notes of. 'I'd go home in the evenings to my studio in the rue Blomet,' he recalled of this time. 'I'd go to bed, I hadn't always eaten, I saw things, I noted them in notebooks. I saw shapes in the cracks in the walls, in the ceiling, especially the ceiling. It wasn't much of a studio, but clean, I polished it every day, I tidied. Whereas my neighbour Masson!' (Joan Miro quoted in Gaeton Picon, Joan Miró: Carnets Catalans: dessins et exts inedits, Geneva, 1976, p.72)
In Montroig over the summer of 1925, many of these noted-down images, which, as in this work, were often of erotic significance, would provide the formal charge that served as the starting point for the more spontaneously painted forms that Miro would place on top of his carefully prepared grounds. Here the ground is a rich deep brown wash seemingly burnt in places to become like smoke hiding within it partially delineated forms and ciphers that appear to hover mysteriously in the distance. Its colour is, of course, appropriate to the subject matter of the painting - the poem 'Ma brune'- which Miro wrote/painted last, after the imagery of the work had been set in place.
As can be seen from this methodical approach to the creation of such a seemingly impulsively created work, 'the absolute spontaneity of Miro's paintings from this period' as Jacques Dupin has pointed out, 'is not strictly speaking automatism'. It was the product of a careful preparation aimed at allowing Miro's painterly impulses to flow and build productively. It is an automatism that 'results from the hand's natural, docile, throbbing submission to internal impulses' and, as Dupin claimed, 'no longer a representation or an interpretation of dreams but (rather) their consummation on canvas' (Jacques Dupin, Miro, New York, 1993, p. 120).
As Miro himself recalled, it was through such a carefully-prepared process allowing him free-rein to invent that, 'the signs of an imaginary writing appeared in my work. I painted without premeditation, as if under the influence of a dream. I combined reality and mystery in a space that had been set free. I owed this lighthearted atmosphere to the influence of DadaLater a deepening sense of the marvelous led me to the notion of the fantastic. I was no-longer subjected to dream-dictation, I created my dreams through my paintings... I escaped into the absolute of nature. I wanted my spots to seem to open to the magnetic appeal of the void. I was very interested in the void, in perfect emptiness. I put it into my pale and scumbled grounds, and my linear gestures on top were the signs of my dream progression' (Joan Mir, quoted in Margit Rowell, ed., Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, pp. 264-5).
Le corps de ma brune is a fusion of such dream-imagery and the painterly dreaming of his hand all seemingly revolving around the distinctly erotic subject of the 'brunette' of the poem. It is normally assumed that Miro's interest in poetry during this period and in the dream-like mixture of word and image employed in his poem-paintings derives from the influence of Andr Masson and the surrealist poets he introduced Miro to at this time. Miro was certainly fascinated with the symbolist imagery of poets such as Jarry, Lautréamont, Rimbaud and Mallarmé during these years, recalling, 'the poets Masson introduced me to interested me more than the painters I had met in Paris. I was carried away by the new ideas they brought and especially the poetry they discussed. I gorged myself on it all night long - poetry principally in the tradition of Jarry's Surmâle' (Joan Miró, 'Interview with James Johnson Sweeney' in Partisan Review, New York, February 1948, reproduced in Margit Rowell, ed., Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 208).
At the time of the creation of paintings like Le corps de ma brune Miro, who was by this time frequenting Surrealist circles and following, if not participating in their varied attempts to produce haunting or provocative irrational imagery from the unconscious mind, had certainly developed a keen interest in the strange power of combining word and image. But as Roland Penrose has suggested, this fascination with the simultaneous appearance of words and images in these paintings may also derive from a long-standing Catalan tradition. One in which Catalan peasants bestowed a magic quality upon their carts by decorating them with arabesques, their own names and other inscriptions all decorated with a flourish.
Something of this arabesque quality and of decorative flourish can certainly be seen in rich colourful painted forms of Le corps de ma brune - a work for which it nevertheless appears that Miro had a specific literary theme in mind. The seemingly self-authored poem of this painting, 'Le corps de ma brune puisque je l'aime', is a piece of supposedly automatic or train-of-consciousness-writing that bears a close resemblance to another of Miro's poem-paintings, Sourire de ma blonde of 1924. The title of this earlier work was based on the popular song 'Auprés de ma blonde'. It has also been argued that Le corps de ma brune too is based on a popular song (Hans Duchting in W. Erben, Joan Miro, Cologne, 1993, p. 45), while Margit Rowell in her extensive essay on Le corps de ma brune in the 1972 exhibition catalogue of Miro's work held at the Solomon R. Guggenhiem Museum in New York has pointed to the close parallels that exist between Miro's poem in this painting and a variety of other literary sources, in particular the poem Les Deux serpents qui burent trop de lait by one of Miro's favourite poets Saint-Pol-Roux.
Les Deux serpents qui burent trop de lait outlines an hallucinatory experience by a man with his lover in which her two arms have been metamorphosed into two milky snake-like forms which he fears are biting at his neck before finally realizing at the end of the poem that she is in fact embracing him. The poem is a symbolist fusion of multiple imagery similar to that which Miro appears to render in Le corps de ma brune. Whether Miro had this poem in mind when he painted and then wrote the words for Le corps de ma brune is uncertain. What is clear however, is that, as in Arthur Rimbaud's poem Voyelles where colours and vowels were inter-associated with various parts of the female body, Miro has sought to combine erotic feeling, poetic words and the sensuousness of pictorial expression into an entirely new and combined pictorial language. Seemingly, in depicting like Rimbaud, the alchemical component parts of a new visual poetics in which colour, form, word, image and meaning all vie and connect with one another to create a new and richer language of expression, this extraordinarily modern painting has generated an entirely new pictorial space. As the words and the vague, fluid imagery indicate, its is a space, set against a mystic void of brown that seems to poetically invoke Miro's lover as an all-pervasive and determining presence within this mysterious realm.
In so doing, the work also brings into on the picture-plane the two apparently conflicting states of 'dream' and 'reality' that Breton had declared to be the aim of Surrealism in the First Manifesto of the movement in 1924. 'I believe in the future resolution of the two states, seemingly so contradictory, which are dream and reality, a surreality' Breton had written ('Premier Manifeste du surréalisme' 1924, in le Manifestes du surralisme, Paris, 1946, p. 15). It is in this context that a work like, Le corps de ma brune must also be considered one of the first and greatest of Surrealist love poems. For its appeal, as Dupin wrote of such pictures, 'is not to the imagination in any usual sense', but rather that 'the imagination of the viewer is drawn into the picture as a kind of stupefied fascination.' The picture's 'void' is only capable of being 'perceived' and understood 'because it is so evanescent. No metaphysical intention, no mystical search drove Miro to these furthermost regions of expression: only such an excess of experience accounts for (these) great canvases of 1925' (Jacques Dupin, Miro, New York, 1993, p. 122).