Miró's Peinture (Femme, Journal, Chien) celebrates the grace and charm of the cosmopolitan feminine form, and as such this painting stands out among the works that Miró created in 1925, which in their astonishing quality, number and variety, surely constitute an annus mirabilis for this artist. In this remarkably productive year many elements Miró had been exploring in his work suddenly and successfully came together, revealing distinctively personal qualities in both the artist's inspiration and his means of expression that would nurture and define his art throughout the remaining decades of his long career. Miró would declare more than a half-century later, in recollections taken down by Jacques Dupin in 1977, that his Paris studio during the mid-1920s--at 45, rue Blomet--"was a decisive place," at "a decisive moment for me. It was there that I discovered everything I am, everything I would become" (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 100).
Over the course of the previous several years, Miró had struggled mightily to arrive at and perfect a new pictorial idiom, by which he could break free of his previously accustomed dependence on the appearances of nature. His solution came in the form of a distinctively original and highly individual language comprised of freely invented "signs," ingeniously devised and marvelously rendered, that he intended would impact the viewer simultaneously with both whimsical humor and more deeply profound implications. These signs were allied to land elements, all manner of flora and fauna, as well as to human beings and their things; they nonetheless manifest a uniquely autonomous presence and as a totality comprise an utterly magical visual universe all their own. These signs liberated Miró at last to delve into an interior world that lay along the border of reality and dream, to "explore all the golden sparks of our souls" (letter to J.F. Ràfols, 7 October 1923, in ibid., p. 83).
As Miró entered the year 1925, it became his challenge to use these innovative means of communicating with signs to effectively evoke the great wealth of subjects that typically preoccupied him at any given time. The results ranged from the mysteriously oblique paintings of his "oneiric" or dream series, where enigmatic signs might reluctantly yield up their secretive import against nocturnal and cosmic settings, to works that revel fully in the bright and dazzling light of day, and treat those sights in which the eye takes special pleasure in the course of daily living. Miró painted the present Peinture (Femme, Journal, Chien) as one of those delectable, memorable moments that a devotee of the boulevards, a dedicated flâneur--Baudelaire's "passionate spectator"--would especially prize, when he has suddenly caught sight of a pretty young woman who has crossed his path on the streets of Paris. She leads a small dog by the leash with one hand, while with the other she holds up her reading of the moment: she has been following the news in Le Journal, the most widely circulated Paris daily of the period.
This typically Parisian subject possesses a tradition that has remained perennially fresh in the arts, to writers of essays, fiction and poetry as well as to painters and sculptors. Baudelaire described the very essence of this irresistible attraction for the artist: "Woman... is far more than just the female of Man. Rather she is a divinity, a star, which presides at all the conceptions of the brain of man; a glittering conglomeration of all the graces of Nature, condensed into a single being, the object of the keenest admiration and curiosity that the picture of life can offer its contemplator. She is a kind of idol... dazzling and bewitching, who holds wills and destinies suspended on her glance" (J. Mayne, ed., The Painter of Modern Life, London, 1995, p. 30). Baudelaire praised Constantin Guys as the first dedicated exemplar of his "painter of modern life." Jean Béraud made a specialty of depicting stylish young women on the boulevards of Paris, a subject that also attracted the Impressionists, and in Miró's day, Bonnard and Van Dongen, in the company of a legion of lesser luminaries.
The legacy of Baudelaire, arguably the first great writer of verse in the modern sensibility, wielded powerful influence on the works of the many poets in Miró's circle, to whom the painter was closely attached. The artist's next door neighbor at the rue Blomet studio was the painter André Masson, who "was always a great reader and full of ideas," as Miró remembered. "Among his friends were practically all the young poets of the day. Through Masson I met them. Through them I heard poetry discussed. 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" (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., p. 208). The poets pointed Miró in the direction he felt he needed to travel: "The discovery of Surrealism coincided for me with a crisis in my own painting, that around 1924, caused me to abandon realism for the imaginary... I thought you had to go beyond the 'plastic thing' to reach poetry" (quoted in Joan Miró 1893/1993, exh. cat., Barcelona, 1993, p. 180). Miró adapted the practices of his writer-friends to his own work. To Michel Leiris he wrote in 1924: "I work furiously; writers, all of you, my friends, have helped me greatly and facilitated my understanding of many things" (quoted in ibid., p. 181).
These poets and writers were, like Miró, young men--indeed, often younger than the painter himself, who turned thirty in 1923. By mid-1925 he could count among his friends Leiris, Max Jacob, Georges Limbour, Robert Desnos, Benjamin Péret, André Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, and the Americans Ernest Hemingway (with whom Miró had occasionally boxed) and Ezra Pound. The poet Raymond Queneau would become the first owner of the present Peinture. Many of the writers closest to Miró belonged to or were affiliated with the nascent surrealist group; the first Manifeste du surréalisme was published in October 1924 and was well-known to the artist. The random, transformative encounter with a mysterious and beautiful woman on the streets of Paris took on particular significance in André Breton's ideas about love and sex; the concept of l'amour fou, "mad love," became the theme of his novel Nadja, published in 1928. There was moreover an event that would remain a closely guarded secret for many years, when in 1927 Picasso walked up and introduced himself to the teenaged Marie-Thérèse Walter in front of the Galeries Lafayette department store. This fortuitous encounter brought great joy to the life of the man and revitalized his art for the next decade and more. Still unattached, Miró admitted that he had romance much on his mind; he had written to Picasso in 1923 that he was currently "in pursuit of a Mme Miró, of a studio, and a dealer! It's a funny affair" (quoted in C. Lanchner, Joan Miró, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 322).
The sign seen in the present painting for the young woman's head--a red heart, crowned with a jauntily feathered and netted hat--might well indicate that Miró had his eye on some such attractive prospect for his own amorous intentions. This heart-for-a-head probably represented for Miró, or so he hoped, the very essence of the feminine sensibility, her own innermost romantic thoughts, as he was eager to discover them for himself. In March 1927 Miró planned to become engaged to Maria Pilar Joy, but their relationship was broken off more than a year later. It may have proved difficult for Miró to combine the passionate dedication he gave to his art with the strenuous emotional demands of a significant relationship. Art was always there for him, to provide when needed the ladder of escape from such difficulties in courtship; the collector René Gaffé recalled, "A telegram announced that he no longer plans to marry, but was planning ten highly finished paintings, then a series of twenty-four drawings" (quoted in ibid., p. 326). During the summer of 1929 Miró became engaged to Pilar Juncosa; they married in October of that year. Their union was strong and lasting; Mme Miró outlived the artist, after which she helped to establish the Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró on Mallorca.
The period of the mid-1920s has been called Miró's "heroic" period (ibid., p. 323), perhaps as much for the chronic hardships the artist endured for the sake of his art as for the high level of his achievement during these early years of his career. Miró was extremely neat and fastidious in his tastes and habits; in contrast to Masson and most other fellow painters he maintained an unusually tidy studio--"I did the housework myself" (quoted in M. Rowell, ed. op. cit., p. 161). He never appeared in public anything less than impeccably attired, always dressed the gentleman; he was no doubt a stylish flâneur who cut an impressive profile that revealed neither sign nor clue of his privately straitened circumstances. But the fact remained that he made few sales during the early 1920s and had very little money. "That was a hard time," he said (ibid.). A constant refrain in his reminiscences of this period is the degree to which he was downright hungry much of the time. "Because I was very poor, I could afford only one lunch a week," Miró wrote. "The other days I settled for dried figs and chewed gum... I did many drawings based on the hallucinations that had been brought on by hunger. I would come home at night without having eaten and put down my feelings on paper" (ibid., p. 161).
The transformation that Miró undertook in his painting between 1923 and 1925 may have been revealed through the outwardly spontaneous impulse of hallucination; it was underpinned, nevertheless, at a more deeply intellectual level in which the artist was knowingly radical and original in his sources. Miró had been investigating prehistoric painting as well as studying contemporary writings that analyzed and pondered conceptions of the visual expression in primitive and pre-logical thinking. Drawing on this research, he discovered that the possibilities for expression in this hitherto specialized field of prehistoric inquiry, which modern painters had still left largely untapped, held a vast frontier wherein he could stake his claim as a ground-breaking explorer, a true pioneer. To this end Miró applied himself with his customary zeal: he was methodically innovative in working out these ideas and singlehandedly found his way. He could not have failed to realize how far-reaching in their implications these developments would prove to become.
From the very outset, the profile of the imagery in Miró's paintings of the early 1920s possessed the virtue of absolute clarity. The hard-edged classicism of Portrait d'une danseuse espagnole, 1921 (Dupin, no. 80; fig. 1)--the Spanish dancer would henceforth become one of Miró's favorite female subjects--combines elements of flatness and a volumetric treatment of the head that creates a hyper-naturalistic presence utterly unlike Picasso's softer, more lyrical approach to the classical revival during this period. Picasso acquired this painting in 1937 and kept it in his private collection.
Exhaustively stocked with abundant landscape incident and detail, the famous La Ferme, 1921-1922 (Dupin, no. 81; fig. 2) constitutes the ne plus ultra of Miró's early representational approach. Hemingway acquired it in 1925 and subsequently gave it as a wedding present to his first wife Hadley. By contrast, during 1923-1924, Miró carried this highly orchestrated, encyclopedic approach to composition into an altogether imaginary realm, in Paysage catalan (Le Chasseur) (Dupin, no. 90; fig. 3). This painting proved to the decisive work that reveals, fully fledged, his new approach, in which the artist had completely recast his imagery as signs. He had written to his friend Ràfols on 26 September 1923 while this quest was well underway: "I am working really a lot, with absolute regularity and method... I have managed to break absolutely free of nature, and the landscapes have nothing to do with outer reality" (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., p. 82). Miró also completed in 1924 another Danseuse espagnole (Dupin, no. 94; fig. 4), this time deconstructing his feminine subject into signs representing her body parts. During the fall of that year, while Miró was discussing this painting with Picasso, his good friend remarked "After me, you are the one who is opening a new door" (ibid., p. 102).
Carnaval d'Arlequin, begun in 1924 and brought to a conclusion in the spring of 1925 (Dupin, no. 115; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York) consolidated Miró's gains in this new pictorial territory: here he created purely by means of signs the most densely populated compositional space he would attempt until the Dutch Interiors of 1928. Miró was also exploring his new pictorial vocabulary in singular, more closely focused subjects. "In the period just after The Hunter [Dupin, no. 90]," Sidra Stich has written, "Miró continued to follow the schematic tendencies of petroglyph designs in his paintings... More striking is his ability to invent new variations through exaggeration and manipulation and inject wit into his creations. During the 1925-1927 period, he also moved toward an utter simplification of composition" (Joan Miró: The Development of a Sign Language, exh. cat., Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis, Missouri, 1980, p. 16). Paintings depicting the heads of Catalan peasants were a favorite subject during this period; one of these pictures (Dupin, no. 121; fig. 5) might serve--differences in class and folk culture aside-- as the masculine counterpart to la belle parisienne in the present Peinture.
There is a solidly constructivist element in the makeup of the Femme in the present painting, underlined by the schematically split colors of her skirt, dark brown on the left, bright yellow on the right, which may describe the fall of brilliant sunlight on one side of her costume. Miró has added a curious touch to the treatment of the woman's shoes, elegant and stylized on her right foot, simpler and rather plain on the left foot. The presence of the dog on a leash may be a nod in homage to Giacomo Balla's well-known Dinanismo di une caneal guinzaglio, 1912 (Lista, no. 271; fig. 6). The reference to Le JOUrnal is, of course, a holdover from the vintage cubism of Miró's friend Picasso (e.g., Zervos, vol. 2**; fig. 7); the newspaper's banner appears in two of Mirós early still-life paintings (Dupin, nos. 77 and 86; The Museum of Modern At, New York and Private collection, respectively). "JOU" may also allude to various words of a playful nature that begin with these letters: a player, the activity of playing itself, a toy, to enjoy, even to have an orgasm, all in keeping with the light-hearted and appealingly romantic nature of Miró's female subject.
Miró's surrealist friends lent the artist their whole-hearted support during his exhibition that Jacques Viot organized at Galerie Pierre on rue Bonaparte and ran 12-27 June 1925. Conservative critics and dealers, however, who had seen promise in his earlier work, derided his recent efforts. Miró remembered, "everyone has a good laugh" (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., p. 111). During the first week in July, Miró travelled to Barcelona and thereafter arrived at his family home in Montroig, where in seclusion he commenced the first works in his cycle of "oneiric" or dream paintings, which he continued both in Montroig and Paris into the spring of 1927. One of these paintings of late 1925 relates to the Femme in the present painting: she is Dame se promenant sur La Rambla de Barcelona (Dupin, no. 143; fig. 8), having been transformed into a cyclonic force of an overtly sexual nature. Also during this period, he painted his most personal evocation of womanhood in the famous peinture-poème, on which he inscribed his own verses "la corps de ma brune puisque je l'aime..." (Dupin, no. 149; fig. 9).
The dog makes its reappearance in one of the paintings done on a white ground in 1927, in Peinture (Le Chien) (Dupin, no. 296; fig 10), which marks the final stage of the "oneiric" series, representing a symbolic return from darkness to light, from night to day, a journey from the innermost world of the mind and spirit back to the world of the senses, from which the artist first set out in works two years earlier in paintings such as the present Peinture.
Raymond Queneau (1903-1976), the first owner of this painting, was a French novelist and poet. He joined the surrealist group in 1924; however, although he entered psychoanalysis like many of his colleagues, he never shared their enthusiasm for automatic writing, nor engaged in ultra-left wing politics, having strong reservations about the surrealists' unquestioning support of the Soviet Union. He sided with Georges Bataille, who in 1930 formed a group that split with André Breton and his adherents. In addition to volumes of poetry, Queneau has nearly two dozen novels to his credit, several of which are available in English translation from New York Review Books. He is best-known for Zazie dans le métro, a satirical view of life in Paris published in 1959, which director Louis Malle adapted for the cinema in 1960.
Joan Miró and Pilar Juncosa at the time of their engagement, Palma, summer 1929.
Photograph Archives Succession Miró.
(fig. 1) Joan Miró, Portrait d'une danseuse espagnole, 1921. Musée Picasso, Paris.
(fig. 2) Joan Miró, La Ferme, 1921-1922. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
(fig. 3) Joan Miró. Paysage Catalan (Le Chasseur), 1923-1924. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
(fig. 4) Joan Miró, Danseuse espagnole, 1924. Formerly in the Collection of René Gaffé; sold, Christie's New York, 6 November 2001, lot 16.
(fig. 5) Joan Miró, Peinture (Le catalan), 1925. Musée national d'art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
(fig. 6) Giacomo Balla, Dinanismo di une caneal guinzaglio, 1912. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.
(fig. 7) Pablo Picasso, Guitare, partition, verre, 1912. The McNay Art Institute, San Antonio, Texas.
(fig. 8) Joan Miró, Dame se promenant sur La Rambla de Barcelona, 1925. New Orleans Museum of Art.
(fig. 9) Joan Miró, Peinture-Poème, 1925. Sold, Christie's London, 7 February, 2012, lot 117.
(fig. 10) Joan Miró, Peinture (Le Chien), 1927. Sold, Christie's New York, 3 November 2010, lot 20.