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Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Property from an Important American Collection 
Joan Miro (1893-1983)

Femme

Details
Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Femme
signed 'Miró' (lower right); signed again, dated and titled 'MIRÓ. 28/X/69 Femme' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted on 28 October 1969
Provenance
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1985.
Literature
J. Dupin and A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné. Paintings, 1969-1975, Paris, 2003, vol. V, p. 42, no. 1377 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Paris, Grand Palais, Joan Miró, May-October 1974, p. 131, no. 103.
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art, Joan Miró, November 1974-January 1975, no. 40.

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Opportunities taken for international travel contributed significantly to the renewed intensity and innovative freedom that Miró brought to his work during the 1960s and 1970s. These qualities are especially telling in the paintings of his Femme series done during the autumn of 1969, to which the present picture belongs. Miró made his second trip to the United States in 1959 to attend the opening of his retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Renewing contacts with artists that he met on his first stay in America during 1947, he now admired the great flowering and triumphant success of abstract expressionism.

This encounter came at a crucial juncture in Miró's career. The artist had not painted since 1955, while getting accustomed to his specially designed, large new studio in Calamayor, Mallorca (fig. 1), he instead concentrated on printmaking and ceramics. The example of the New York painters was profound and liberating. To Jacques Dupin, Miró stated, "It showed me the liberties we can take, and how far we can go, beyond the limits. In a sense, it freed me" (quoted in Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 303). "When I saw those paintings, I said to myself, 'You can do it, too; go to it, you see, it is O.K.!" (interview with M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 279).

Miró resumed painting upon his return to Europe, and his works of the 1960s display increasing gestural boldness and frequent accidentally-derived innovations in the handling of his brushes and paints. His newer compositions evoke an improvisatory, even vehement, spontaneity and they assumed more of the "all-over" look that had become characteristic of American post-war painting. At the same time Miró retained the disciplined approach of the more traditional image-oriented School of Paris sensibility in his subject matter. American painters admired Miró's work as a living link between the fabled surrealism of the inter-war decades and their own postwar developments--Miró now saw it as his turn to return the compliment and draw upon trans-Atlantic ideas in his work. He returned to America again in 1961 and 1964, continuing his dialogue with American artists and their work.

No less an influential factor on Miró's work of the late 1960s were the style and techniques of Japanese painting and calligraphy. Miró had been long aware of the affinities in his work with Japanese fine and decorative arts, especially while creating his ceramics. The terseness of his poems and picture titles, moreover, owed something to the example of the haiku form in Japanese verse. In the fall of 1966 Miró made his first trip to Japan, on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition that was seen in Tokyo and Kyoto. Miró drew inspiration from this trip to focus his imagery into concentrated and unified gestures of black paint that resemble the expressive characters--his signs having become like the ideograms--in Japanese calligraphy. "I feel deeply in harmony with the Japanese soul" he told Pierre Bourcier in 1968 (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., op.cit, 1986, p. 275). Commentators likened his meditative method to that of a practitioner of the precepts of Zen archery; Miró declared to Margit Rowell in 1970, "I work more and more in a state of trance, I would say almost always in a trance these days... I consider my painting more and more gestural" (ibid., p. 279).

If Miró's use of his materials continued to evolve in novel and unexpected ways, his subject matter remained relatively constant. The chief image in his pictorial universe was the figure of woman, just as it was for Picasso and Chagall, two contemporaries who also worked vigorously into their late careers. Here the great eye, head and figure of Miró's woman emerges from a swirling ideogram composed of broad slashes of black paint, which overlays a thinly washed drawing at the center of the composition, accented to striking effect with rough swatches of pure color, and punctuated with vertical rows of his own colored fingerprints. Miró, then well into his seventies, demonstrated in Femme how the intuitive methods he derived from the surrealist movement, now brought forward several decades, continued to serve him well, by encouraging an open and searching approach that enabled him to absorb and adapt the techniques of younger artists and other cultures to his own pictorial ends. Most importantly, Miró remained true to the essential idea of his subject, that of a vital expression of primal female power, a theme that had first emerged in his work as far back as the 1920s.



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