Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Property from a Private European Collection
Joan Miro (1893-1983)

Tête de femme

Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Tête de femme
signed 'Miró' (center right); signed again, titled and dated 'MIRÓ. Tête de femme 17(II)76' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
42 5/8 x 32¼ in. (108.7 x 81.7 cm.)
Painted on 17 November 1976
Galería Maeght, Barcelona (acquired from the artist).
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, 1 February 1984.
P. Gimferrer, Miró, Catalan Universel, Barcelona, 1978, p. 234, no. 198 (illustrated in color, p. 214).
P.A. Serra, Miró and Mallorca, New York, 1986, p. 291, no. 288 (illustrated in color, p. 216).
J. Dupin and A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné. Paintings, 1976-1981, Paris, 2004, vol. VI, p. 89, no. 1818 (illustrated in color; with incorrect provenance).
Madrid, Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo, Joan Miró, Pintura, May-July 1978, p. 114, no. 105.
Palma de Mallorca, Sa Llotja, Joan Miró, Pintura, September-October 1978, p. 106, no. 72.

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Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Miró painted this boldly declamatory Tête de femme on 17 November 1976, almost exactly a year after the death in 1975 of General Franco, the fascist dictator who had ruled Spain since his victory over democratic Loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War during 1936-1939. The pall of painful memories and a stifling burden of oppression had finally been lifted from the Spanish people. Picasso had been unwilling to visit Spain or to sanction the exhibition of his work while Franco was alive. Miró, while a resident on the island of Majorca since 1940, also refused to show his work in any official capacity. In an interview in 1978 with René Bernard of the Paris L'Express, 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 it was up to me to carry on for Spain" (quoted in M. Rowell, Joan Miró: Selected Writing and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 303). Most importantly for Miró, the death of Franco and the subsequent establishment of a constitutional monarchy under King Juan Carlos I allowed the resurgence of nationalist spirit in his native Catalonia, which was granted the status of an autonomous region and nationality within Spain.

In late 1976, the Catalonian dance, mime and puppet theater group La Claca, which had been forbidden to perform during the Franco regime and most of whose members lived and worked in exile, approached Miró to collaborate on a new production. Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi provided their initial inspiration; the play had long been a favorite of Miró, and was the subject of a series of illustrations the artist made during 1953 (Dupin drawings, nos 1332-1489). Miró in 1971 published Ubu aux Baléares, a series of lithographs that poked fun at the bourgeois values of Spanish vacationers on Majorca during the Franco era. Titled Mori el Merma ("Death to the Bogeyman"), La Claca's theater piece at first identified the deceased dictator with Père Ubu, Jarry's megalomanic and grossly obese gourmand, his fictional usurper of the Polish kingdom, but the production in its final shape became a more general satire celebrating the passing of Franco and his reactionary regime.

La Claca's players in Mori el Merma were actually outsize puppets, with people moving inside their giant heads and figures (fig. 1). Miró's studio paintings during mid- and late 1976, the period immediately leading up to his work for La Claca, often took the form of such large heads painted in large masses of black paint that fill most of the canvas, much like a close-up photographic portrait or movie still. They bring to mind details from Goya's late paintings in the Prado (fig. 2) and the black heads of Giacometti's final years (fig. 3). With two reptilian eyes glaring at the viewer from within a pitch-dark, spiky and comically misshapen head, the present femme is like a dinosaur as a child might have drawn one, and appears to embody the voracious appetites and monstrous behavior of Jarry's Mère Ubu.

The bluntly robust aspect that runs through Miró's painting during the 1960s and 1970s is in marked contrast with the more refined linear character of the artist's middle period during the Second World War and the immediate post-war era. Opportunities taken for international travel contributed significantly to the renewed intensity and innovative freedom that Miró brought to his work during his final decades. The artist made his second trip to the United States in 1959 to attend the opening of his retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. He renewed contacts with artists that he met on his first stay in America in 1947, and now admired the great flowering and triumphant success of Abstract Expressionism.

This encounter came at a crucial juncture in Miró's career. To Jacques Dupin, Miró stated, "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 Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 303). "When I saw those paintings, I said to myself, 'You can do it, too; go to it, you see, it is O.K.!'" (interview with M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., p. 279).

The works of the 1960s display increasing gestural boldness and frequent accidentally derived innovations in the handling of his brushes and paints. These compositions reveal an improvisatory, sometimes even vehement spontaneity, and project a confrontational presence, leavened with humor. At the same time Miró retained the disciplined approach of the more traditionally centered, image-oriented School of Paris sensibility in depicting his subject matter. American painters admired Miró's work as a living link between the fabled surrealism of the inter-war decades and their own postwar developments. Indeed, Miró now saw it as his turn to return the compliment and absorb trans-Atlantic ideas into his own efforts. He returned to America again in 1961 and 1964, continuing his dialogue with American artists and their work.

No less an influential factor on Miró's late work were the style and techniques of Japanese painting and calligraphy. Miró had been long aware of the affinities in his work with Japanese fine and decorative arts, especially while creating his ceramics. The terseness of his poems and picture titles, moreover, owed something to the example of the haiku form in Japanese verse. In the fall of 1966 Miró made his first trip to Japan, on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition that was shown in Tokyo and Kyoto. Miró drew inspiration from this trip to focus his imagery into concentrated and unified gestures of black paint that resemble the expressive characters--his signs having become like the ideograms--in Japanese calligraphy (e.g., Dupin, no. 1337; fig. 4). "I feel deeply in harmony with the Japanese soul" he told Pierre Bourcier in 1968 (quoted in ibid., p. 275). Commentators likened his meditative method to that of a practitioner of the precepts of Zen archery. Miró declared to Margit Rowell in 1970, "I work more and more in a state of trance, I would say almost always in a trance these days I consider my painting more and more gestural" (ibid., p. 279).

In 1976, now well into his eighties, Miró neither slowed down nor turned away from the art of his time. Nevertheless, if his use of materials continued to evolve in novel and unexpected ways, his subject matter remained relatively constant. The chief image in his pictorial universe was the figure of woman, just as it was for Picasso and Chagall, two contemporaries who also worked vigorously into their late years. Miró's woman is always a vital expression of primal female power, a theme that had first emerged in his work as far back as the 1920s. The artist has demonstrated in Tête de femme how the intuitive methods he derived from the surrealist movement, now brought forward nearly half a century, still possess the ability to startle and delight, while probing both the darkness and the light in human consciousness. His receptive and exploratory sensibility continued to enable him to absorb and adapt the techniques of younger artists and the lessons of other cultures to his own pictorial ends.

The premiere of Mori el Merma took place at the Teatre Principal in Palma on 7 March 1978. Two months later, the present Tête de femme featured in Miró's first museum retrospective in Spain, held at the Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo, Madrid. He had proudly written William Rubin, a director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, "This exhibition can help to build a new Spain, which we are all working for" (C. Lanchner, Joan Miró, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 344). In an interview with Santiago Amón given on the occasion of this exhibition, Miró declared, "I painted these pictures in a frenzy, with real violence so that people will know I am alive, that I am breathing, that I still have a few more places to go. I'm heading in new directions... You still haven't heard the last of me!" (M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., p. 301).

(fig. 1) Miró applying paint to one of the figures in Mori el Merma, in Sant Esteve de Palau Tordera, Barcelona, 1977. Photograph by F. Català-Roca. BARCODE: 28854838

(fig. 2) Francisco Goya y Lucientes, La lechera de Burdeos, 1825-1827. Museo del Prado, Madrid. BARCODE:

(fig. 3) Alberto Giacometti, Tête d'homme, 1961. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. BARCODE: 28854814

(fig. 4) Joan Miró, Femme, 28 October 1969. Sold, Christie's, New York, 7 November 2012, lot 63. BARCODE: 29698974

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