The mid-1940s were a period of great change and consolidation in Mir's work. Between 1939 and 1941 he made an extraordinary series of gouaches known as Constellations. He completed this series in Palma in a period of intense solitude, during which he spent much of his spare time listening to music in the Gothic cathedral there and reading the Spanish mystics, St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. Mir later told James Johnson Sweeny, "It was an ascetic existence: only work."
Mir constructed the Constellations with great precision, developing a personal language of signs to convey his religious and emotional sentiments. Jacques Dupin describes these works as a "mountain peak of accomplishment" from which Mir could reconsider his whole method working:
He took stock of his forms, meditated on ways to reanimate them, restore their mobility, preserve their imperfections (without which there is no life) To find afresh the elementary language which had always haunted him, he had no further need of the model, of the provocations of the unconscious surrender to dreams, of the urgings of destructive instincts What would be expressed in their entirety in every sign, every line, every brush stroke from now on would be the messages received from this terra incognita -- at once fabulous and familiar, unheard of yet without surprises. (J. Dupin, op. cit., 1993, pp. 258-259)
Following this series, Mir began a new group of works. In an interview with James Johnson Sweeny, published in 1948, Mir spoke about this next period in his oeuvre:
After having finished the series of paintings in Palma, I moved to Barcelona. And as these Palma paintings had been so exacting both technically and physically I now felt the need to work more freely, more gaily--to proliferate. I produced a great deal at this time, working very quickly. And as I worked very carefully in the Palma series which had immediately preceded these, 'controlling' everything, now I worked with the least control possible--at any rate in the first phase, the drawing. (J. Mir, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 210)
Almost all the paintings from this period depict women, often accompanied by a mythological bird, beneath a starry sky. L'espoir is a paradigmatic example of the group. The blue star in the upper right corner, the two females at either side of the canvas, and the bird or woman in the center are all characteristic elements of the series. That L'espoir typifies this group is also indicated by the fact that, in the second edition of his monograph on Mir, Dupin chose it for the frontispiece of the chapter about these works. Discussing this series, Dupin has written, "Their function is to link the human element with the sky and the earth, respectively. They partake both of human and astral nature, as in all primitive cosmogonies" (J. Dupin, op. cit., 1993, p. 265).
Many of the works in this series are titled with descriptive names, such as Women in the Night; Birds in Space; Personages, Birds, Stars and so on. The present painting is exceptional in that its title, "Hope," is a mood or virtue instead. The title perhaps expresses the artist's joy and relief following the end of World War II. He said of his titles:
I find my titles gradually as I work, as I link one thing to another on my canvas. When I have found the title, I live in its atmosphere. The title then becomes a hundred percent reality for me, like a model--a reclining-woman--for someone else. For me, the title is an exact reality." (J. Mir, "I work like a gardener," quoted in Mir in Montreal, exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, June-October 1986, p. 17)
Writing of his work in this period, Margit Rowell has commented, "From narrative prose to poetry to the ordered elusiveness of music, Mir next set out on a quest for poisies, or the transcription of the act of creation itself The dynamic and sometimes abrupt gestures as well as the involuntary surface accidents that appear intermittently in his paintings after 1944 indicate Mir's new objective: the expressive power of abstract gesture and random occurrence as the true revelation of life and the source or primordial moment of all creation-poetry, music, art, existence itself. Indexes of energy rather than icons of meaning, these blots and splotches or thick cursive strokes are invested with the rhythms of the artist's inner necessity to make a primary statement of being. Consistent with this development, Mirs's imagery is more childlike than ever before and therefore more immediate and primary in its appeal" (M. Rowell, Mir, New York, 1970, p. 18).
(fig. 1) Mir with an early state of Le port, Barcelona, 1944
(photo by Joaquim Gomis)
(fig. 2) Joan Mir, Femme rvant d'vasion, 1945
Fundacon Joan Mir, Barcelona
(fig. 3) Joan Mir, Personnages, oiseaux, toiles, 1 March 1946
Sale, Christie's, London, 27 June 1994, lot 32
(fig. 4) Joan Mir, Femmes entendant de la musique, 11 May 1945
Sale, Christie's, New York, 14 November 1990, lot 31