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Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Property from a Private Collection, Palm Beach
Joan Miro (1893-1983)

Personnages dans la nuit

Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Personnages dans la nuit
oil on burlap mounted at the edges on board
16 5/8 x 11 1/8 in. (42.1 x 28.4 cm.)
Painted in 1944
Galerie Pierre, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Valentine Gallery, New York.
Morton R. Goldsmith, New York; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 15 May 1985, lot 361.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Town and Country, February 1947, p. 110 (illustrated).
J. Dupin and A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné, Paintings, 1942-1955, Paris, 2001, vol. III, p. 58, no. 725 (illustrated in color; catalogued as signed, titled and dated on the reverse).

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Lot Essay

In early 1944, Pierre Matisse, Miró's dealer in New York, wrote to the artist, expressing concern that he no longer seemed interested in painting. Miró had last worked in oil on canvas in his Varengeville series, which he began only days before the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, and brought to a conclusion at the end of that year. During his final days in Varengeville, he commenced his celebrated Constellations, painted in gouache on paper (Dupin, nos. 628-650). Miró completed the final works in this series in Palma, Mallorca and at his family's home in Montroig, Catalonia during 1941. For most of the next several years the artist worked only on paper, experimenting with various media and techniques, and made numerous prints and ceramics. Miró wrote Matisse on 17 June 1944, seeking to reassure him, "I work as always a lot; if I've made ceramics and lithographs, and this summer I am going to make sculpture, it is not to abandon painting on the contrary, it is to enrich it with new possibilities and to take it up with a new enthusiasm" (quoted in C. Lanchner, Joan Miró, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 336).
Miró had already begun, in fact, to paint on canvas again. Jacques Dupin has written, "In 1944, after four years away from oil painting, Miró went back to it in a new spirit, displaying astonishing ease and productivity. Oil confers an authority, a decisiveness, and a clarity to canvas that modifies its structure and its spirit. The climate is a more relaxed one, and figures have a sobriety that intensifies them" (Miró, Barcelona, 2004, p. 264). Miró executed the first pictures on scraped canvases, with thinly painted figures emerging like wraiths from the stressed surface. Some of the paintings that followed are more like drawings on canvas, as Miró sought to translate some of the graphic techniques he had improvised for his gouaches and drawings into oil paint on canvas. He wrote in a war time notebook that he wanted to "achieve the same spontaneity in the paintings as in the drawings" (M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 188).
Toward the end of 1944, Miró had fully reclaimed a vigorous and assured manner in oil, whose aspect and methods would characterize his painting for years to come. Personnages dans la nuit is virtually perfect in the way Miró has combined drawing with color, and employed different applications of paint. The imagery fills the canvas and is more compactly interactive than in previous works. The result is carefully composed, but possesses a felicitous aspect that is completely fresh and spontaneous. Miró wrote, "I will make my work emerge naturally, like the song of a bird or the music of Mozart, with no apparent effort, but thought out at length and worked out from within" (ibid., pp. 185-186).

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