JOAN MIRÓ (1893-1983)
JOAN MIRÓ (1893-1983)
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JOAN MIRÓ (1893-1983)

Oiseau, insecte, constellation

JOAN MIRÓ (1893-1983)
Oiseau, insecte, constellation
signed ‘Miró’ (centre right); signed again, dated and inscribed MIRÓ. 2/III/74. Oiseau - - insecte, Constella = tions’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
50 ¾ x 38 in. (129 x 96.5 cm.)
Painted on 2 March 1974
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, by 1975 and until at least 1987.
Acquavella Galleries, New York.
Hakoné Museum, Gôra, Japan.
Private Collection, Europe, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 4 November 2014, lot 32.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
W. Erben, Joan Miró, The Man and His Work, Cologne, 1998, p. 214 (illustrated p. 215).
J. Dupin & A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné, vol. V, Paintings. 1969-1975, Paris, 2003, no. 1599, p. 203 (illustrated).
Paris, Grand Palais, Joan Miró, May – October 1974, no. 210, p. 146 (illustrated).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Miró, Paintings & Sculpture, 1969-1974, April 1975, no. 26 (illustrated).
Wichita, Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Joan Miró, Paintings and Graphics, September – November 1978.
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Miró, Selected Paintings, March – June 1980, no. 45, p. 94 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, June – August 1980.
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Miró in America, April – June 1982, no. 32 (illustrated).
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Joan Miró, November 1986 – February 1987, no. 167 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle, February – April 1987.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Joan Miró, A Retrospective, May – August 1987, no. 145, p. 243 (illustrated p. 242).

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Ottavia Marchitelli
Ottavia Marchitelli Senior Specialist, Head of The Art of The Surreal Sale

Lot Essay

Painted on 2 March 1974, Oiseau, insecte, constellation (Bird, Insect, Constellation) is one of a series of extremely bold, free and dramatic paintings that Joan Miró embarked upon in the early 1970s. When these canvases were first exhibited together in the artist’s major retrospective at the Grand Palais Paris in 1974, their gestural brushwork and striking approach to the act of painting offered a startling counterpoint to the artist’s early work from the 1920s. In these large-scale compositions, filled with a vibrant sense of energy, Miró proclaimed the ongoing power of his irrepressible creative drive, even as he entered his eighth decade. Depicting one of the perennial themes that had characterised Miró’s work for several decades – that of a bird, the stars and the night – Oiseau, insecte, constellation translates this theme into an extraordinarily fierce and expressive gestural fusion of dramatic sign-like marks, set against a paint-splattered ground.
As Miró’s friend and biographer Jacques Dupin has written of the dramatic and simplified painterly language of this vibrant late period in Miró’s oeuvre, the artist ‘had reached such a level of success and buoyancy, or freedom and aloofness, that it seemed absurd and even “sterile” to seek to invent new figures and to renew old themes. The perennial depiction of a woman and a bird, of a star, of the sun and the moon, or the striking appearance of a rooster or a dancer confirmed that the importance of the theme was now secondary compared to the sign. The sign itself was no longer the image’s double, it was rather reality assimilated then spat out by the painter, a reality he had incorporated then liberated, like air or light... In a word Miró’s painting became solar, purged of anecdotal references, refined mannerisms, self-satisfied taste and obscure manoeuvres. Hidden or fleeting elements lost their place, nor was there any need to decipher these works. For they had become sovereignly pure acts bursting with a self-evidence that the painter had achieved only through an endless series of interruptions and ruptures...’ (J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 1983, p. 340).
In 1956, Miró had permanently settled in Palma de Mallorca, and was finally able to realise his long-held dream of building a large studio in which to work. Unpacking crates of paintings which contained works spanning the length of his career, Miró embarked upon a period of critical scrutiny, re-evaluation and self-examination of his work. In addition to this, the new studio allowed him to begin painting on an increasingly large scale and with unmediated directness, as he sought a purer revelation of the act of painting. In many ways, the resulting works exhibit a greater sense of freedom and gesture that recalls the language of both Abstract Expressionism, which had flourished in New York in the aftermath of the Second World War, and Japanese calligraphy, which Miró had held a deep and abiding interest in for many years.
In November 1941 the first retrospective exhibition held anywhere devoted to Miró opened to the public at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. This exhibition had a major and timely impact on many young artists who were beginning to make their reputations in New York, including Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hoffmann and Barnett Newman. Upon his first journey to the United States in 1947, Miró was delighted to learn that his work had been exerting a strong influence on American artists. His example had helped guide them toward authentically instinctive forms of abstraction, in which they were encouraged to draw freely on a spiritual and an emotional core within their own lives. The exchange of ideas that transpired during his subsequent sojourns in 1959, 1961 and 1964 was reciprocal: Miró came away enriched as well. Inspired by the dramatically large-scale open field style of painting pioneered by such artists as Pollock, Rothko, and Kline, Miró confronted his work with renewed intensity and celebrated the power and richness of colour with a freedom he had never shown before. American Painting, Miró admitted, ‘showed me a direction I wanted to take but which up to then had remained at the stage of an unfulfilled desire. When I saw these paintings, I said to myself, you can do it, too: go to it, you see, it is O.K.! You must remember that I grew up in the school of Paris. That was hard to break away from’ (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 279).
In 1966, meanwhile, a visit to Japan for another exhibition of his work allowed Miró to meet with local poets, potters and calligraphers whose art he had always admired. In particular, as he recalled of this visit, he became ‘fascinated by the work of the Japanese calligraphers’ and this exerted a major influence on his subsequent work. Their concentration on gesture and the act became of increasing importance for him, along with their patient meditative practice. ‘I work more and more in a state of trance,’ he admitted, ‘I would say almost always in a trance these days. And I consider my painting more and more gestural’ (ibid.). In Oiseau, insecte, constellation, Miró adopted an eloquence of style and a fierce simplicity of means that appears to echo the art of Zen painting. It is in works such as this that Miró demonstrates 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.
By the 1970s these disparate influences and approaches had coalesced in Miró’s work into a powerful, dramatic and often violent assault on his canvases in the form of a myriad of gestural marks, splashes, smudges and drips, with the artist even forgoing brushes all together on some occasions: ‘Now I draw by dipping my finger in the paint,’ he told Yvon Taillandier at the time of his Paris retrospective in 1974. ‘Of course, in order to obtain contrasts, I sometimes make very fine strokes; and I often play with broad strokes against the narrow strokes… This method of using my finger to paint is fairly recent. In my monograph there is a photo of me using this technique. I have been relying on my fingers more and more. Now I even spread out the colour with my fist, rubbing it in a circle. Sometimes I use an easel. But that has become quite rare. I put my paintings on sawhorses or on the floor. When they’re on the ground I can walk on them, and that's convenient, especially in the case of a large canvas. When I’m finished, I put it on the wall with someone’s help, or put it on the easel, or lean it against something to stand it up. Then I can see what has to be corrected. After that I put the canvas back on the floor to do the corrections. On the floor I work flat on my stomach. Oh yes! – paint gets all over me. My face and hair get all dirty, completely splattered. As for my work clothes, they become a real painting. When I get back home and am in my studio again, I think I will do things of normal dimensions, but also some very large paintings. I feel in great shape’ (‘Interview with Yvon Taillandier,’ XXe siècle, 1974; reproduced M. Rowell, op. cit., 1987, pp. 285-286).

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