Property from a Midwestern Estate

Property from a Midwestern Estate

Joan Miro (1893-1983)

Figures devant un volcan

signed bottom center 'Miró'--tempera on masonite
15¾ x 11¾ in. (40 x 29.8 cm.)
Painted in Montroig, October 9-14, 1935
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Theodore Schempp & Co., New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner on May 24, 1944
C. Greenberg, Joan Miró, New York, 1948, p. 130 (illustrated, p. 74, pl. XXXIV)
J. Dupin, Joan Miró: His Life and Work, New York, 1962, p. 533, no. 420 (illustrated and incorrectly dated December 9-14, 1935; illustrated again, p. 323)
Y. Bonnefoy, Miró, Paris, 1964, p. 5
S. Stich, Joan Miró: The Development of a Sign Language,
St. Louis, 1980, pp. 40-41
Chicago, The Arts Club, Joan Miró: Works from Chicago Collections, Feb.-March, 1961, no. 21 (illustrated)
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Joan Miró, Oct., 1993-Jan., 1994, p. 407, no. 130 (illustrated; in color, p. 210)

Lot Essay

Executed in the approaching storm of the Spanish Civil War, Figures devant un volcan, with its acid colors and wildly contorted forms, is Miró's first tableaux sauvages and one of his most striking. His paintings from 1935 and 1936 are filled with bold, untamed images and twisted landscapes, the product of his anxiety over the threat of war. In these works Miró continues to experiment with biomorphic shapes, resisting the move into complete abstraction. The fantastical creatures of his vision remain essentially familiar -- the Catalan mountains and volcanic peaks, the landscapes peopled with peasants and horses. The pure colors -- glaring yellows, blues, greens and reds -- heighten the overall impact of the imagery. Miró painted with the care of a miniaturist, his strict discipline contrasting significantly with the untamed forms he depicted. With his usual methodical precision, he made the most of each medium which he worked with, choosing hard surfaces which were well-suited to his bright, unprepared pigments, alternating between masonite and copper. He produced a series of works on masonite, among them Nocturne (Dupin no. 425; Cleveland Museum of Art) and Figures devant une Métamorphose (Dupin no. 421; New Orleans Museum of Art). "We may note that throughout what we call his 'cruel' period Miró painted on hard surfaces only (cardboard, copper, masonite), surfaces that to the imagination evoke violent attack and physical struggle.... The masonites have an intensity of a scream in the night." (Dupin, op. cit., p. 288-9)

Referring to this painting and to the following works in the series, Carolyn Lanchner writes that Miró:

...converts the peaceful landscape of Montroig into savage theater. In effective intensity those paintings surpass the already great
expressive power of the first of Miró's tableaux sauvages....
Whether painted in oil on copper or tempera on masonite, the twelve
tableaux sauvages are united each to each by their poetic
intensity and common subject-matter.... Miró tended to work first
on one ground, then on the other, going back and forth between
them.... Miró frequently wrote to Pierre Matisse about the nature of his progress on the copper and masonite paintings, telling him in February of 1936, 'They demand to be worked on very slowly' and advised him 'to have no fear about the solidity of these works.' Miró applied himself with great intensity to this series, often with no interval between the completion of one painting and the beginning of another...Miró...adamantly refused to part with any until the series was complete.... He cannot, he says, 'give up any part of the group, because in working I consult them all to remain in a certain spirit and to find a place and a springboard to launch myself from.' '...they are,' he says, 'the culmination of diverse explorations...and of capital importance.' (exh. cat., Joan Miró, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, pp. 65-66)