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Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Joan Miró (1893-1983)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
Joan Miró (1893-1983)

Tête, oiseau, étoile

Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Tête, oiseau, étoile
signed 'Miró' (lower center); signed again, dated and titled 'Miró. 17/II/76. Tête, oiseau, étoile' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
36 1/8 x 28 ¾ in. (91.9 x 73 cm.)
Painted on 17 February 1976
Galerie Maeght, Paris (acquired from the artist, circa 1976).
C. Lombardi, Milan (acquired from the above, 30 April 1981).
Marisa del Re Gallery, New York.
Private collection, Connecticut (acquired from the above, 1985); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 9 May 2002, lot 286.
Private collection (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 8 November 2006, lot 448.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Porzio, Joan Miró: Oli, gouaches, acqueforti, Milan, 1981 (illustrated in color, pl. 20).
J. Dupin and A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró: Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings, 1976-1981, Paris, 2004, vol. VI, p. 25, no. 1696 (illustrated in color).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Joan Miró: Peintures, sculptures, dessins, céramiques, 1956-1979, July-September 1979, p. 171, no. 34.
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Joan Miró painted this roisterous, canine-like profile of a head on 17 February 1976, barely four months after the death in November 1975 of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator who had ruled Spain with an iron hand since his victory over democratic Loyalist forces in the Civil War during 1936-1939. The nation had finally begun to cast off a long, stifling burden of oppression and dispel the pall of painful, unhealing memories. In a 1978 interview for Paris LExpress, Miró declared, “Picasso and I were always opposed to Francoism. But working as I did, unknown and in the margins, I opened some doors… After Picasso’s death [in 1973] it was up to me to carry on for Spain” (quoted in M. Rowell, Joan Miró: Selected Writing and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 303).
Miró’s late paintings on canvas often took the form of large, close-up heads, rendered as back-lit silhouettes of black paint that cover much of the canvas. They conjure the tragicomic, parabolic expression of Goya’s late murals, Las Pinturas Negras; the present painting likely alludes to Perro semihundido, the unforgettable solitary dog nearly consumed within a vast void. Like the wide-eyed, Byzantine icon-like têtes noires of Giacometti’s final years, Miró’s late heads often manifest a powerful “gaze”—one or both eyes, styled as rudimentary signs, stare outward, huge and ovum-like, the pupil within like a life newly conceived, as if taking in sustenance from all that is visible in the world around it. “Yo, Miró”—"I, Miró,” the artist might declare in Spanish, which also conjugates, from the verb mirar, “yo miro”—"I look at, I watch…” “I didn’t become a painter because my name is Miró,” he remarked in a 1962 interview, “but I am known as Miró because I am a painter” (ibid., p. 262).
The robust, freewheeling, improvisatory handling in Miró’s painting during the 1960s and 1970s—often exploiting splatters, drips, and stains among swirling, gestural masses of paint—is the ultimate manner in which the artist declaimed his language of pictorial signs, in marked contrast to the more refined, precisely linear shapes characteristic of his work during the Second World War and the immediate post-war period. Opportunities taken for international travel contributed significantly to the renewed intensity and instinctive freedom that Miró brought to his work during his final decade. He visited America a third and final, fourth time in 1961 and 1964, continuing his productive dialogue with American artists and their work.
Miró had been long aware, moreover, of the affinities in his work with Japanese painting and decorative arts; two journeys to Japan, in 1966 and 1969, profoundly catalyzed his valedictory production in graphic media, sculpture, and ceramics. The terseness of his poems and picture titles reflected the succinctly imagist haiku form in Japanese verse. Watching artists at work in ancient, traditional styles piqued Miró’s interest in employing the brush as a calligraphic tool—his signs were indeed counterpart to linguistic ideograms. He would liken his meditative, trance-like state in conceiving and bringing a composition to fruition to the Zen practice of archery, “in which nothing definite is thought, planned, striven for, desired or expected,” Eugen Herrigel wrote, “which aims in no particular direction and yet knows itself capable alike of the possible and the impossible, so unswerving is its power” (Zen in the Art of Archery, New York, 1953).
While his use of materials continued to evolve during the 1970s in novel and unexpected ways, Miró remained dedicated to a central group of subjects: a primordial head or figure, embodying the generative l’éternel féminin or some animated agent of worldly action, under a star that is the grand cosmos, with the bird as intermediary. In the present painting the latter is perched atop the drop-jawed head, a traveler and messenger connecting the heavens and earth. “Between the attraction of cosmic forces and telluric impulses,” Jacques Dupin wrote, “there remains a space where things and beings can abide and encounter one another through a series of exchanges and metamorphoses, and this passing site is none other than the earth: neither sheltered from the risks below, nor the beckoning from above... The fear, the laughter, and the exaltation they communicate irresistibly carry us toward the origins of humankind and the primitive condition of all its beings” (Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 351).

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