In November 1941 the first retrospective exhibition held anywhere devoted to the work of Joan Miró opened to the public at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. James Johnson Sweeney, the celebrated curator and advocate of modern art, organized the exhibition and wrote an important monograph on the artist for the occasion. Sweeney praised Miró's work as "the most revolutionary contribution made within the strictly pictoral form by any painter of the generation immediately following that of Picasso" (quoted in J. Dupin, Miró, Barcelona, 1993, p. 275).
Miró, who had fled to Spain following the fall of France and was then hoping to escape the attention of Franco's fascist police by secluding himself in Palma, Mallorca, did not dare risk coming to New York. Notwithstanding the fact that America entered the war halfway through its run, the retrospective had a major and timely impact on many young artists who were beginning to make their reputations in New York, including Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hofmann and Barnett Newman. "Many artists saw in Miró's painterly, tactile surfaces and swinging, organic rhythms a key to loosening up the tight geometric style that dominated the Cubist art of the American Abstract Artists. His apparent solution to the problem of reconciling figuration with the flatness demanded by modernist painting suggested an avant-garde alternative to abstract art that was eagerly explored by the New York School" (B. Rose, Miró in America, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982, p. 5).
Miró finally made his long-awaited first trip to America in February 1947, to undertake his first major postwar commission, a mural to adorn the wall of the restaurant in the Terrace Plaza Hotel, then under construction in Cincinnati. Miró had initially planned to paint the work in Cincinnati, but later decided to execute it in New York, which enabled the artist to make extensive contacts in the city with important American artists, including Jackson Pollock.
The Terrace Plaza Hotel mural was completed in September, and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York before being shipped to Cincinnati (Dupin, no. 817; coll. The Cincinnati Museum of Art). Its success helped Miró to obtain his next commission in the USA several years later, a mural for the Harkness Law School dining room at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Dupin, no. 893; coll. The Museum of Modern Art, New York).
Miró's interest in the mural format during this period carried over into many of his compositions, ranging in scale from the very small to large, including the present work. The extreme width of these paintings gives the effect of a landscape backdrop punctuated by a sequence of vertically aligned forms, which creates a pictorial narrative. The elements in Peinture include a figure on the left side, surrounded by an aura of white paint, with tree-shapes to his right. The upper center is dominated by Miró's well-known star symbol. The figure gestures with up-raised arms, expressing his wonderment and awe as he wanders like a pilgrim, a guiding star before him, into the limitless and dazzling expanse of the natural world.
Miró has here dispensed with the thinly etched linear drawing that was characteristic of the Constellations, the decorative murals and many of his paintings of the 1940s. His exposure to the heavy gestural brushwork in New York painting encouraged him to adopt a more painterly manner, in which a rougher but more expressive calligraphic style takes the place of refined linear drawing. In this respect Peinture, and two related paintings done at this time in the same format and size (Dupin, nos. 906-907), look forward to Miró's style in the 1960s.