‘When I am back in my studio, I will look at everything I have been doing, coldly and calmly. What subjects will I deal with next? Well, besides Queen Marie Louise, there will be the Women and Birds in the Night. Where does that theme come from? Good Lord! Perhaps the bird comes from the fact that I like space a lot and the bird makes one think of space. And I put it in front of the night; I situate it in relation to the ground. It’s always the same kind of theme, my kind of theme’
(Joan Miró, quoted in Yvon Taillander, ‘Miró: Now I work on the Floor’, in Margit Rowell, ed., Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 282).
Painted in March 1968, Femme et oiseaux dans la nuit (Woman and Birds in the Night) is a major large-scale painting of one of the artist’s favourite subjects, made for an important travelling retrospective exhibition of his work held at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu in Barcelona and the Haus der Kunst in Munich between 1968 and 1969. Of all these venues, it was Miró’s exhibition in Barcelona, his first in Spain for over fifty years, that was to prove the most lastingly important as it led directly to the establishment of the Miró Foundation there seven years later.
Femme et oiseaux dans la nuit is one of several paintings on the poetic theme of women, birds and the night that Miró made in the mid-1960s, at a time when he was pursuing the joint influences of recent American painting and of Japanese calligraphy on 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, ibid., 1987, p. 219).
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 Femme et oiseaux dans la nuit demonstrates, as a direct result of this practice, Miró’s forms grew 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 large-scale and comparatively open-form work the iconic sturdy and distinctly earth-bound figure of a woman stands boldly set against the green land and the blue of the night sky, while the stars and the path of a bird in flight seem to dance around her. Segregated into distinct fields of pure colour, the smooth flowing calligraphic lines of Miró’s powerful glyph-like imagery also signify strongly the transient path and process of their own creation.
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 stabilised in this poetic stylisation 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’ (Jacques Dupin, Miró: Life and Work, London, 1962, p. 485).