Miró completed Le soleil rouge ronge l'araignée in early April 1948. He had made his first trip to the United States the year before, spending the eight months mainly in New York, working on a mural commission for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati that his American dealer Pierre Matisse had arranged for him. In February 1948 he returned to Paris for his first visit in eight years, since the time he was forced to flee France during the German invasion. Old friends celebrated his return, and the artist made a new connection with the dealer Aimé Maeght, who organized an exhibition later in the year and thereafter became his dealer in Europe. In March Miró visited Matisse and Picasso in the south of France. These travels marked the end of Miró's solitude and seclusion in Palma Majorca, Barcelona and Montroig during the war years, and his reemergence on the scene as one of Europe's most distinguished artists. Le soleil rouge ronge l'araignée is a major statement of Miró's mature achievement, and clearly proclaims his leading status in post-war painting. It exemplifies the compelling visual power of his work at this important phase in his career, which wielded tremendous influence on younger painters, especially those who were then emerging in New York and who, during the next few years, would alter the course of modern painting in the second half of the 20th century.
Following the end of the war, Miró was eager to visit America, and he could foresee the impact that New York would have on him. In making plans for his 1947 exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, he wrote his dealer on 3 September 1946, "In the future world, America, full of dynamism and vitality, will play a primary role. It follows that, at the time of my exhibition, I should be in New York to make direct contact with your country; besides, my work will benefit from the shock" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1993, p. 337). The time was indeed ripe for Miró to make his presence known firsthand. His paintings had been seen in New York since 1926, and because of the efforts of Pierre Matisse, who had been showing Miró in his 57th Street gallery since 1932, his work was perhaps even better known and more widely appreciated in artistic circles in America than it was in Europe. James Johnson Sweeney, the director of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, had long been his admirer, and gave the artist his first retrospective in November 1941-January 1942. Although the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December dampened the public's interest in this exhibition, American painters and critics had taken notice. Indeed, if Miró had made his presence felt in New York at the beginning of the war, he was also there near its end. The exhibition of sixteen of the twenty-two gouaches in his celebrated Constellations series (e.g., Dupin, no. 629; fig. 1) at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in January 1945 was the first major show of recent work by a leading European avant-garde painter held in New York since America entered the war. It made a powerful impression. Matisse reported to Miró, "The opinion was unanimous and the public has found your exhibition very moving. You have attained an unprecedented degree of poetic intensity, and in color as in the line a dazzling mastery" (quoted in ibid.).
Miró, traveling with his wife Pilar and their daughter Dolores, arrived in New York on 8 February 1947. Following a trip to Cincinnati to examine the site at the Restaurants des Gourmets at the Terrace Plaza Hotel, he began work on his mural. He executed this large work, his first major international public commission, in the studio of painter Carl Holty on East 119th Street, and completed it in September-October (fig. 2). During this period he made prints in Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17 on East 8th Street, where he was introduced to Jackson Pollock. Miró later recalled, "we could not do more than smile at each other, since we had no common language" (quoted in B. Rose, Miró in America, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982, p. 35). He made frequent visits to his old friend Alexander Calder in Roxbury, Connecticut, reunited with erstwhile fellow surrealists Yves Tanguy and Max Ernst, as well as the painter Amadée Ozenfant, and met often with Marcel Duchamp.
New York did not disappoint Miró. Jacques Dupin has written, "The intense rhythm of the city, the youth and vitality of the people, the gigantic dimensions of the buildings, the vast distances, and unfamiliar proportions--the difference in scale and measure between American reality and the norms of old Europe--struck Miró like 'a blow to the solar plexus,' to use his own expression" (in op. cit., 2004, p. 276). Francis Lee, in an interview for the magazine Possibilities, asked Miró if he felt America would influence him. The artist replied, "Yes, very much so. Especially as force and vitality. To me the real skyscrapers express force as do the pyramids of Egypt." He went on to express his newly acquired passion for baseball--"especially the night games"--and ice hockey (quoted in M. Rowell, Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 204).
Miró and his family sailed home to Barcelona in October 1947. Before being shipped to its destination, the Cincinnati mural was exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in March-April 1948. It was around this time that Miró painted Le soleil rouge ronge l'araignée in his in Barcelona studio. The restaurant mural and the present painting made use of the imagery and techniques that he had developed since the Constellations. For much of the war he had made only works on paper, spontaneously improvising with his materials (fig. 3). Miró also began to explore sculpture, ceramics and lithography, and indeed became so involved in these new endeavors that in early 1944 Pierre Matisse expressed concern that the artist seemed inclined to give up oil painting altogether. Miró, however, returned to painting that year, with small canvases at first, and then increasingly larger ones, in which he distilled the imagery and working techniques of the past several years (e.g., Dupin, no. 807; fig. 4). Composing on canvas, especially in a large format, required a more deliberate and calculated approach than that he had employed in freely attacking a sheet of paper. Miró outlined this process in an interview he gave to James Johnson Sweeney, published in the February 1948 issue of the Partisan Review:
First, the suggestion, usually from the material; second, the conscious organization of these forms; and third, the compositional enrichment. Forms take reality for me as I work. In other words, rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting and as I paint the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush. Even a few casual wipes of my brush in cleaning it may suggest the beginning of a picture. The second stage, however, is carefully calculated. The first stage is free, unconscious; but after that the picture is controlled thoughout, in keeping with that desire for disciplined work I have felt from the beginning. We Catalans believe you must always plant your feet firmly on the ground if you want to be able to jump up in the air (reprinted in ibid, p. 211).
Miró's procedure in painting Le soleil rouge ronge l'araignée conformed to this approach. The artist probably began the painting with the spontaneously conceived and broadly brushed signs in black at center and right, which retained a surrounding aura of untouched white canvas. The thinner background washes of green and red followed next. Miró then "organized" the picture by drawing the outlines of the figures at left, upper and lower right, and adding his characteristic sign for female genitalia at lower right. He included a star, and a spot and spiral at upper left, which describes a buzzing insect. The "enrichment" phase was undertaken with the opaque coloring of the figures, the five eyes that seem scattered about the canvas (but actually serve to balance the composition), and the sexual imagery. The overall result is a visually succinct and harmonious balance of dynamic and interacting forms, which lends the composition a classically poised and serenely timeless air. The paintings of the immediate post-war, and especially those done in the wake of the Cincinnati mural, represent a significant consolidation of imagery and technical means, stemming from--but now markedly different from--the violently explosive works on paper done in 1941-1943.
Dupin has observed in the present painting that "With a single gesture the artist created a powerful sign of great magic suggestiveness, seeming to emerge out of the depths of the earth, out of the remote past. We cannot imagine this sign to have been invented, translated from some lost language, dug up, or deliberately provoked. Rather it seems to have decided for itself to step into the artist's work. In its purity, this primordial sign glows like white-hot metal" (in op. cit., 2004, p. 278). Miró was a poet as well as a painter, and his title for the present picture, which has been translated as the "The Red Sun gnaws the Spider," teases, or even "gnaws" at us, with its hermetic and inexplicable significance. Miró the poet clearly relished the alliterative play between the words rouge and ronge. The green background in this painting betokens a floral world which the insects inhabit, although all of the creatures, as well as the sun, possess anthropomorphic features. The spider is apparently a male, whose desire, like Mallarmé's faun in the company of his nymphs, has been aroused by the heat of the sun, and presence of an available female. This daddy-long-legs responds with a frenetic dance as he anxiously seeks to mate.
Miró's primordial signs, arising from a deeply animistic spirit and executed in spontaneous, energetic gestures--so evocatively expressed in Le soleil rouge ronge l'araignée--strongly appealed to a new generation of American painters, who were seeking an authentic and vital means to abstraction. Miró's intuitive and poetic impulse provided a promising alternative to the ideas, derived from cubism and De Stijl, that had fostered a prevailing taste for geometric abstraction in the 1930s, but were now deemed superficial and empty. Barbara Rose has written, "Miró's dictum, quoted by Sweeney in his [1941 MoMA retrospective] catalogue, that 'painting or poetry is made as we make love, a total embrace, prudence thrown to the wind, nothing held back,' provided a rationale for the intense abandon and total emotional involvement demanded by the group that included personalities as troubled and desperate as Pollock [fig. 5], Gorky and Rothko. They, like virtually every ambitious New York School artist, were profoundly affected, to an extent that altered the course of their art, by the 1941 Miró retrospective" (op. cit., pp. 19-20).
Six years later, Miró's 1947 sojourn in America bolstered the impact and extent of his influence in America, which would endure into the next decade, as Abstract Expressionism entered its heyday. Miró, moreover, came away enriched as well. Dupin has pointed out, "The artist's visit to the United States thus marked an important date in his life. It was there he found confirmation of the importance of his work and evidence of the widespread interest it aroused. Above all, he discovered that the primitive magic of his art was consonant with the most dynamic of modern societies" (op. cit., 2004, p. 277).
(fig. 1) Joan Miró, L'échelle de l'évasion, 31 January 1940. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE 23548091
(fig. 2) Joan Miró, Mural Painting for the Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, 1947. Cincinnati Art Museum. BARCODE 22867339
(fig. 3) Joan Miró, Personnage, oiseau, étoiles, 9 February 1942. Sale, Christie's, New York, 3 November 2004, lot 43. BARCODE 22867346
(fig. 4) Joan Miró, Le rouge, le bleu, le bel espoir, 1947. Sale, Christie's, New York, 4 May 2004, lot 33. BARCODE 22867353
(fig. 5) Jackson Pollock, Totem Lesson 2, 1945. Australian National Gallery, Canberra. BARCODE 22867360