Joan Miró (1893-1983)
The James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection
Joan Miró (1893-1983)

Peinture (Le Soleil)

Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Peinture (Le Soleil)
signed and dated 'Miró. 1927.' (lower left); signed and dated again 'Joan Miró. 1927' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
15 1/8 x 18 1/8 in. (38.3 x 46.2 cm.)
Painted in 1927
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Valentine Gallery (Valentine Dudensing), New York (by 1941).
Ella Winter Stewart, London (by 1961).
Richard Feigen Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, 12 June 1965.
J. Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work, New York, 1962, p. 519, no. 230 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
J. Dupin and A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró: Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings, 1908-1930, Paris, 1999, vol. I, p. 212, no. 288 (illustrated in color).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Joan Miró, November 1941-January 1942, p. 80.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Verzameling Ella Winter, December 1961-January 1962, no. 65 (with inverted dimensions).
London, Tate Gallery and Kunsthaus Zürich, Miró, August-December 1964, p. 28, no. 78.

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Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

Joan Miró painted Peinture (Le Soleil) in the spring or summer of 1927 as one in a series of sixteen canvases that he primed and suffused with a zinc-white oil ground, “a resolutely luminous whiteness,” Jacques Dupin wrote, “with a sufficiently strong texture to supply solidity and unambiguous light” (Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 129). With brush and a few colors he drew on this indefinite, boundless space the figure of a small winged man—or perhaps a bird, or some other airborne creature—that dares approach the fiery orb of the sun, apparently having travelled the vast distance from the small dot of a planet at lower right.
This group en blanc complements another sequence executed on a blue ground; together they comprise the final installment in a remarkable, unprecedented thread of works, begun in mid-1925, numbering more a hundred pictures in all, which Dupin called Miró’s “oneiric” or “dream” paintings. Between these dual tonalities, having navigated from darkness into light, here the journey is done. The dreamer emerges from a nocturnal, passively subconscious state into the daylight of assertive activity—the awakened, adventurous self has been restored.
After more than eight decades, the oneiric paintings have securely sustained their status and reputation as being among the most austere, elusive, and mysteriously evocative in all Miró’s oeuvre. The deceptive simplicity and minimalism in these stripped-down canvases shocked their first viewers. The white pictures are especially subversive—“by being deprived of depth,” Isabelle Monod-Fontaine wrote, painting “was being put to death from behind” (Joan Miró, exh. cat., Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2004, p. 74). The oneiric pictures were prologue to Miró’s subsequent, most radical campaign: “I want to assassinate painting,” he famously declared to Tériade in 1927, and to this end he practiced various means of “anti-painting.”
The chronology of the works Miró included in his first one-man exhibition at Galerie Pierre, Paris, in June 1925, traced how he had transformed the hyper-realist detailism of his early subjects—in portraits, still lifes, and landscapes—into a pictorial idiom of primitive, invented signs. The image-making of the earliest artists, at work during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of prehistory, fascinated Miró; he had been familiar from childhood with the pictographs discovered in the cave of Altamira, which had been recreated in a mural display at the Museo Arqueológico Provincial in Barcelona. He followed the latest findings in archeology and anthropology. “It was the power and mystery of the images, their sheer magical presence and purity of spirit, which inspired his wonderment,” Sidra Stich has written. “He viewed painting as being ‘in a state of decadence since the age of caves.’ He aimed to recapture the essence of pre-historic art, ‘to penetrate to the sources, to return to the origins’” (Joan Miró: The Development of a Sign Language, exh. cat., Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis, 1980, p. 11).
“The idea—an idea that is at once very simple and very mysterious—was to extract from each form the sign latent within it,” Dupin explained, “to unshackle the sign from the matrix of realistic representation, to strip it bare, to give it room to breathe… Miró casts off the vestiges of perspective and modeling, the volume and weight of creatures and things, discarding their illusory autonomy for good. There is no more constraint… Simplification, enlargement and the mobility of all its elements open this painting to the pulsations of desire and the combinative potential of signs.” The blazing sun in the present Peinture is aptly representative of Dupin’s metaphor of the “boiling crucible… into which the sign has been plunged and reemerges dripping and vivified” (Joan Miró: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1987, pp. 35 and 38).
Miró and curator James Johnson Sweeney included the present Peinture (Le Soleil) in the artist’s first museum retrospective, held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, from 18 November 1941 through 11 January 1942. Not quite three weeks into the show, on 7 December, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and America entered the Second World War. Although events of the day dampened the public response to Miró’s museum debut, American artists took notice. “Coinciding with a moment of decision for the New York avant-garde seeking to break away from Cubism, the retrospective consecrated Miró as a major artist,” Barbara Rose wrote. “Miró’s subjective, fantastic art was interpreted by Sweeney as an antidote to the sterility of geometric abstraction” (Miró in America, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982, p. 19).

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