Joan Miró made his initial contact with American painting during his first trip to the United States in February-October 1947. In addition to renewing his friendships with artists who had emigrated to the United States before and during the Second World War, such as Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp and Yves Tanguy, Miró met many of the younger Americans who were making their reputations, including Jackson Pollock.
Miró's second trip to America in 1959, on the occasion of his retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, came at a crucial juncture in his career. He had not painted since 1955, and was concentrating on printmaking and ceramics, while getting accustomed to a new studio that had been designed for his use in Calamayor, Mallorca. The work of the recently established New York artists 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).
After Miró returned to Europe, paintings again began to flow from his studio, and this abundance did not let up throughout the 1960s. "These paintings disclose affinities–which Miró did not in the least attempt to deny–with the investigations of a new generation of painters. In these new realms, Miró was in fact, more so than any other painter, an innovator. Many of these painters, notably Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, acknowledged their debt to Miró who, in turn, displayed lively interest in their work and never missed an opportunity to encourage and support them" (ibid., p. 304). Painted in December 1965, Deux personnages is a major painting of one the artist's most enduring themes: abstracted female figures, often paired with birds in a nocturnal setting. Evident here is the unique synthesis of recent American painting and of Japanese calligraphy forged by Miró in the 1960s into his own uniquely poetic, instinctive and gestural style of painting. American Painting, Miró admitted, had “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” (Joan Miró quoted in "Interview with Margit Rowell", 1970, in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 219).
Many of Miró's paintings of the 1960s are characterized by the use of a heavy, sweeping and gestural black line. The artist's subjects have been reduced to their essential linear aspect; they have become ideograms. The influence of the work of Franz Kline is evident, as is Miró's interest in urban graffiti. There is also a free use of unmixed color, ploughed across the canvas with the palette knife. Motherwell noted that Miró's colors came from his Mediterranean environment, "the bright colors of folk art–reds, ultramarine blues and cobalt, lemon yellow, purple, the burnt earth colors, sand and black. His colors are born for whitewashed plaster walls in bright sunlight" (quoted in "The Significance of Miró", The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell, New York, 1992, p. 117).
Inspired by the dramatic large scale open field style of painting as pioneered by such artists as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, in the 1960s, Miró, after moving into the large studio he had always dreamed of, began also to make work on an ever-increasing scale. In addition to this, a visit to Japan in 1966 for a retrospective of his work held in Tokyo allowed Miró to meet with Japanese poets, potters and calligraphers whose art he had always admired. In particular, as he recalled of this visit, “I was fascinated by the work of the Japanese calligraphers and it definitely influenced my own working methods. I work more and more in a state of trance, I would say almost always in a trance these days. And I consider my painting more and more gestural” (ibid.).
As Miró's work of the 1960s progressed, he became freer and more at ease with his working process. Similarly, as a work such as Deux personnages demonstrates, as a direct result of this practice, Miró's forms grew bolder, more open and expansive, his gestural lines more dramatic and flowing while the poetic nature and integrity of his pictorial vocabulary remained essentially the same. In this strong and vibrant work two bold wide-eyed figures appear enmeshed within each other against a brightly colored and luminous night sky. Segregating paint-splattered fields of different colors, the boldly articulate calligraphic lines of Miró's powerful glyph-like imagery are mesmerizing and exuberant. Where one figure ends and another begins remains indeterminate, and nonessential–whereas what is clearly conveyed is the freeing sense of suspension and possible flight, likening these figures, as in so many other Miró works, to birds in flight rather than terrestrial beings.
According to the leading authority on Miró's work, his friend and author of the catalogue raisonné of his work, Jacques Dupin, the “theme of the woman, the bird and the night provides one of the keys to Miró's cosmic imagination: it expounds the conflict between the earthly and aerial elements and, in the dialogue between the woman and the bird, renders the precariousness of the balance achieved between them... Nothing is heavy or stabilized in this poetic stylization of woman in the process of metamorphosis between fixity and volatility. The analogy between the two creatures, and the interlacing of their lines are sometimes so strong that it is hard to say where the woman ends and the bird begins, whether they do not after all form one marvelous hybrid creature... This suspended union...takes place in the privileged space of carnal night, in an intimacy of nature, which Miró has never departed from. Reality is revealed as a sort of break in the smooth flowing of time” (Miró: Life and Work, London, 1962, p. 485).
Joan Miró, Femme et oiseaux dans la nuit, 1968. Sold. Christie's, London, 23 June 2010, lot 54.
Joan Miro in his studio, the present lot illustrated at far center. Archives Successió Miró
Jackson Pollock, The Moon Woman. 1942. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy