Against a translucent, ethereal blue background, delicate, thread-like lines, whimsical forms and abstract spots of colour emerge in Joan Miró’s poetic and dream-like Peinture – Bleu. Painted in 1927, the present work belongs to Miró’s radical and much celebrated series of ‘oneiric’ or ‘dream’ paintings, which the artist began in Paris in 1925, at the height of his involvement with Surrealism. Seeking to liberate painting from convention, and eliminate references to the external world, with these radically simplified paintings, Miró channelled a subconscious, interior world onto his canvases, so as to explore what he once described as, ‘all the golden sparks of our souls’ (Miró, quoted in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 83). As the signs and forms of Miró’s own intensely personal pictorial language float through the seemingly endless void of blue, Peinture – Bleu is imbued with a celestial, otherworldly quality, appearing like a magical vision in a dream, or a glimpse of a far-away, imaginary world.
Miró began his dream paintings while living and working at 45, rue Blomet in Paris. Surrounded by a circle of artists and poets, including André Masson who had a studio next to Miró, Michel Leiris, Georges Limbour and Robert Desnos, amongst others, the artist found himself within an extraordinarily fertile creative environment; or as Jacques Dupin has described, the artist was in the midst of, ‘an almost delirious intellectual effervescence’ (J. Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1993, p. 120). Exposed to Masson’s pioneering surrealist technique, automatic drawing, as well as reading the poetry of groundbreaking poets such as Rimbaud and Jarry, and the work of Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche, Miró’s intellect was stimulated and his imagination took flight, inspiring him to move away from realism and traditional pictorial convention, towards a whole new form of painting. Miró later reflected on this critical moment in his career, ‘Then, being with all the poets opened new doors for me, helping me go past the plastic pictorial fact, to go beyond painting: that was very, very important. Rue Blomet, for me, that is something crucial in my life and in my work, because of the time I was able to spend in Paris, with poets, above all with writers’ (Miró, quoted in M. A. Caws, ‘Surrealism and the rue Blomet’ in Surrealism and the rue Blomet, exh. cat., New York, 2013, p. 15).
Decisively moving away from the highly detailed realism that had characterised his earlier works, such as La ferme (1921-22, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Miró’s starting point for his dream paintings was the hunger-induced hallucinatory visions that he was experiencing at this time. Like the automatic techniques that his surrealist peers were pursuing, Miró also developed a semi-automatic method of drawing and painting. Surviving sometimes on just a few dried figs a day, which was often all he could afford, Miró, in a state of hallucination, would sit in his studio, staring at the wall or at marks on the ceiling, spontaneously capturing on paper the surreal signs, shapes and forms that appeared to him in this almost unconscious state. Many years later, the artist recalled this poverty-stricken yet immensely creative period: ‘Because I was very poor, I could only afford one lunch a week: the other days I settled for dried figs and chewed gum… I did many drawings based on hallucinations that had been brought on by my hunger. I would come home at night without having eaten and put my feelings down on paper’ (Miró, quoted in Rowell, ibid., pp. 161-162).
For Miró, these semi-automatic, hallucinatory experiences opened up a new realm of artistic possibility, serving as the basis for his abstract and dreamlike, ‘oneiric’ paintings. Miró started to paint with a new, unplanned and unconstrained abstract imagery composed of graphic-like signs and forms: he recalled, ‘the signs of an imaginary writing appeared in my work. I painted without premeditation, as if under the influence of a dream. I combined reality and mystery in a space that had been set free… Later, a deepening sense of the marvellous led me to the notion of the fantastic. I was no longer subjected to dream-dictation, I created my dreams through my paintings…I escaped into the absolute of nature’ (Miró, quoted in Rowell, ibid., p. 264). In Peinture – Bleu, all superfluous or narrative elements are dispensed with. Space is no longer illusionistic but is instead abstract and infinite; likewise, forms are not descriptive but are the instinctive product of Miró’s unrestrained imagination: freely invented signs that create a fantastical and visionary artwork.
Set within an empty abyss, the abstract forms of Peinture – Bleu take on an enigmatic visual power. Floating in a translucent, limitless sea of thinly applied blue wash, lines and shapes form mysterious ciphers and signs that emerge from, and simultaneously disappear into the field of colour. Your work. Appearing to spontaneously fluctuate across the canvas, these signs balance in a state of perfect equilibrium on the canvas, creating a powerful poetic harmony. Appearing impulsive and instinctive, these compositions were carefully thought-out and planned by Miró. After capturing on paper the forms and shapes engendered by his hallucinations, Miró considered and pondered these drawings before painting them on to the carefully prepared grounds of his canvases, distilling them to their most essential forms to create a striking and poetic visual language. With its eloquent simplicity of lyrical signs, Peinture – Bleu encapsulates Miró’s desire to transcend the conventions of painting, and realise a revelatory visual form free from realistic imitation.
With a distinguished provenance, Peinture – Bleu has remained in the same collection since 1929. Pierre Loeb, the legendary surrealist dealer and gallerist, and one of the earliest supporters of Miró, gave Peinture – Bleu as a gift to the Belgian artist, Jean Milo. Milo was Vice Director of the Galerie Le Centaure, one of the leading avant-garde galleries in Brussels, which brought together Belgian artists, and maintained strong links with the Parisian avant-garde; a central facilitator for the exchange of ideas between these two artistic centres. After Miró’s successful one-man exhibition at the Galerie Le Centaure in May 1929, Loeb, as a way of thanking Milo for his support and promotion of the Spanish artist, gave him Peinture – Bleu: a commemoration of their fruitful collaboration and their shared love and enthusiasm for the work of Miró.