Miró returned for his second trip to America in 1959. The visit offered extensive exposure to the work of the now established New York artists, notably Robert Motherwell and the late Jackson Pollock and this had a profound effect on him; 'It showed me the liberties we can take, and how far we can go, beyond the limits. In a sense it freed me' (quoted in J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 303). This trip marked a significant departure in Miró's style, with his personages and signs becoming far more expressive as he deliberately adopted their techniques.
Femme et oiseau is a recurrent theme throughout Miró's oeuvre. It combines the essential elements of his personal mythology, with the female figure personifying the earth and fertility, whilst the bird acts as an intermediary to the larger cosmos. The present work, with its bold gestural forms and splashes of pure colour, exemplifies this interplay.
Jacques Dupin, poet, author, critic and a close friend of Miró, suggested that the artist's treatment of the Femme et oiseau motif 'offers one of the keys to Miró's cosmic imagination. It exposes conflict, and translates the unstable balance of the heavenly and earthly into a struggle between woman and bird... The analogy between the two creatures and the intricacies of their lines are such that it is difficult to tell where the woman ends and the bird begins or if they do not in fact form together a single marvellous hybrid' (quoted in Miró, exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, 1997, p. 158).
Femme et oiseau is one of 54 works known as cartones that Miró produced between 1959 and 1965. Using grey industrial grade cardboard, Miró was seeking not simply a neutral surface, but rather something intentionally rough, banal and inelegant. 'He was fascinated and inspired by all kinds of papers, and these served him as virtual "Readymades" and objets trouvés in the Dadaist and Surrealist sense. He might light upon some expensive rice paper or simply some discarded scrap, a piece of corrugated cardboard or packing paper, old envelopes or newspapers, or one of those round pieces of cardboard bakers under cakes. This most spiritual artist has a distinctly sensual relationship with his materials' (W. Schmalenbach, 'Drawings of the Late Years', in Joan Miró: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1987, p. 51).