Joan Miró (1893-1983)
L'étoile insaisissable
signed, dated and titled 'MIRÓ. 4/VI/68 L'ÉTOILE INSAISIS[S]ABLE [sic]' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
76¾ x 51 1/8 in. (195 x 129.9 cm.)
Painted on 4 June 1968
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York.
Private Collection, Japan (by 1997).
Helly Nahmad Gallery, London.
Dickinson Roundell, Inc., London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, February 2011.
J. Dupin and A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné. Paintings, 1959-1968, Paris, 2002, vol. IV, p. 250, no. 1316 (illustrated in color).
Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght, Miró, July-September 1968, no. 160.
Barcelona, Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu, Joan Miró, November 1968-January 1969, p. 71, no. 160.
Yokohama Museum of Art, Joan Miró, Centennial Exhibition: The Pierre Matisse Collection, January-March 1992, p. 137, no. 97 (illustrated in color).
Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Joan Miró: Equilibri a l'espai, September-November 1997, p. 80, no. 24 (illustrated in color, p. 81).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

L'étoile insaisissable--the unseizable star--celebrates one of the most recurrent themes in the art of Joan Miró: stars and their mystical meaning. Executed in 1968, the picture captures the energy and gestural force that characterized Miró's works in the late 1960s. Set against a white background, the artist's emphatic brushwork dominates the composition of the picture, to which the areas of color provide a sparse counterpart. Circular black brushstrokes press onto a red core, while a few straight ones extend into space, connecting this central mass to the rest of the canvas. Not representational, yet not quite purely abstract, L'étoile insaisissable suggests the presence of a sort of writing, in which each symbol is bound to the other in its meaning.

In 1966--two years before he executed L'étoile insaisissable--Miró travelled to Japan, on the occasion of a retrospective of his work organised by the Tokyo and Kyoto Museums of Modern Art. The trip marked a moment of great discovery for Miró, who had always been instinctively fascinated by Japan. He was able to witness some of Japan's most characteristic traditions--such as a tea ceremony, sumo wrestling and a demonstration of Ikebana, the art of arranging flowers--and was personally able to engage with Japanese art, visiting a village of ceramicists and admiring one of the oldest private collections of erotic prints. These experiences reinforced Miró's affinity with the Japanese culture, so that in 1968, the year he executed L'étoile insaisissable, he would state: "I feel deeply in harmony with the Japanese soul" (Article (Excerpts), by P. Bourcier, in "Les Nouvelles Littéraires," 8 August 1968, p. 275, in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 275).

Following Miró's encounter with Japan, L'étoile insaisissable appears as a sort of calligraphic exercise which may have been inspired by the great respect manifested for the discipline in Japan. In L'étoile insaisissable, Miró seems to have combined the signs in order to convey meaning, but also aesthetic pleasure. The egg-shaped form, the star and the arrow were recurrent signs in Miró's pictorial language, especially during the 1960s. Yet, in L'étoile insaisissable, Miró succeeded in merging these signs into an immediate, embracing gesture, executed with assured instinct and self-contained balance. While the picture appears as an impressive, solemn gestural work, its title evokes poetry, once again establishing a link with the art of calligraphy. Two years after painting L'étoile insaisissable, Miró himself suggested a correspondence between his works and calligraphy: "I was fascinated by the work of the Japanese calligraphers and it definitely influenced my own working methods. I work more and more in a state of trance, I would say almost always in a trance these days. And I consider my work more and more gestural" ("Interview with Margit Rowell," 20 April 1970, pp. 279-280, in M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., p. 279).

The powerful, gestural composition of L'étoile insaisissable is paired with a tendency towards concision and simplification: as the gesture expands onto the canvas, all ephemeral elements are eliminated, leaving the background untouched and the fundamental unity of the signs intact. The same year he executed L'étoile insaisissable Miró would compose some of his most powerful, yet austere works, such as the Peinture sur fond blanc pour la cellule d'un solitaire triptych, now at the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona, composed of single lines across a white background. Restrained, yet emotionally charged in its gestural simplicity, L'étoile insaisissable exemplifies Miró's artistic research at the time: "to me conquering freedom means conquering simplicity. At the very limit, then, one line, one colour can make a painting" (P. Bourcier, op. cit., p. 275).

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