Executed in 1971, Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit presents some of Joan Miró’s most characteristic themes on a dramatic scale and with grand simplicity of means. Birds, women and the night had, since the very beginning of his career, constituted some of the most poetic ingredients of Miró’s universe. Here, the artist’s imagination forged a new scenario in which these three symbols are united in a single evocative image: the woman has stolen the nightingale’s song, as the night envelops her. This poetic idea is strikingly corresponded on the canvas by areas of flat, vivid colours and sparse black signs. Almost two metres wide, Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit expands Miró’s vocabulary on a monumental scale, reinforcing the power of his art through a simplification of forms.
During the 1960s and 1970s, settled in his large studio at Palma de Mallorca, Miró was finally able to paint multiple large canvases at the same time, while continuing to experiment with ceramics and express himself through lithographs. The studio, planned by the architect Josep Lluís Sert, had been completed in 1956. That new building, later amplified by the addition of Son Botero, a nearby studio mainly devoted to sculpture, offered Miró the space he had been dreaming of since the late 1930s.
At Palma, surrounded by his own art, Miró embarked on a journey of experimentation and relentless re-elaboration of his art. Photographs of the studio from the period show an ample room across which Miró’s multiple canvases create dialogues of signs, colours and moods. Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit was created there in a moment of fervid activity.
In the early 1970s, Miró was preparing for one of the most historic retrospectives of his work, to be held at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1974. Tracing the entire career of the artist, the exhibition presented Miró’s early, established works as well as his most recent, most experimental paintings, including Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit. Miró had personally insisted on the inclusion of his latest works, sending more than one hundred canvases, on which he had been working since 1969, directly from his studio to the Grand Palais. Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit was exhibited as part of a series of canvases conceived around vast, black shapes, complemented by flat areas of colour, mostly red, yellow and blue. Within the exhibition, the series stood as a new, formal experiment in which Miró intended to attain the symbols of his art through the interaction of flat areas of colours and black, calligraphic brushstrokes.
Works such as Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit were executed in stages over long periods of time, letting forms and colours gradually determine their own evolution. In 1974, Miró explained this particular working method: ‘I work in stages – first stage, the blacks; with the other stages comes the rest, which is given to me by the blacks’ (Y. Taillandier, ’Miró: Now I Work on the Floor’, in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 285). In Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit the black parts give structure and rhythm to the composition: the form on the left is counterbalanced by the section with the star on the right, while three vertical lines divide the vast canvas into three chromatic fields. Miró explained the way he applied colours while commenting on Woman with Three Hairs Surrounded by Birds in the Night, a work now in the collection of the Museum
of Modern Art, New York, executed the year after Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit. After the black, Miró would introduce the red; once this section was finished he would only add one spot of blue to the picture. He explained: ‘Then I studied the painting for a time before resuming. When all the red is in, I begin to know where to put the blue’ (quoted in W. Rubin, Miró in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1973, p. 102). The same process was repeated for the other colours, the green and yellow. Miró would often add each section of colour weeks apart, leaving the work to breathe and grow over time.
Miró’s method of creation through successive colour fields induced him to consolidate and condense the system of signs which his art had created. Other than plain colours, Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit is only composed of a few broad, sweeping brushstrokes. Mysterious in their asceticism, these sparse signs crystallise Miró’s interiorised vocabulary with renewed emphasis. Miró’s friend and biographer Jacques Dupin observed: ‘During this period Miró did not attempt to radically transform his own language, but to expand it, sometimes by stripping it down to the bare essentials. Through his rarefaction and seeming lack of prudence, the “canvas” pictorial energy was in fact magnified, and his painting strikingly reaffirmed’ (J. Dupin, Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 338). In its emphasis on colour fields and gestural black brushwork, moreover, Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit struck a cord with Abstract Expressionism. Miró, who in the late 1940s had been a great source of influence and inspiration for artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky, himself embraced part of the sensibility of that younger generation of painters in later years.
In its poetic intent, however, Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit continues the relationship between poetry and painting that was at the core of Miró’s art. A friend of poets such as Jacques Prévert and René Char, Miró conceived his paintings as visual poems: ‘I make no distinction between poetry and painting’, he declared (J. Dupin, op. cit., 2012, p. 432). When Miró was not directly weaving words into his paintings – as he did in the 1920s and later on, in works such as Une étoile caresse le sein d’une négresse (1938, Tate Modern, London) – he gave titles the role of poetic verses, suspended above the world of his paintings. As such, titles played a crucial role in Miró’s art: ‘I find my titles as I work, as I link one thing to another on my canvas. When I’ve found the title, I live in its atmosphere. The title becomes, for me, a one-hundred-percent reality, like a model, a woman lying down, for example, for someone else. The title is, for me, a precise reality’ (J. Miró, ‘Miró: I work like a gardener…’, pp. 423-428, in Joan Miró 1893-1993, exh. cat., Barcelona, 1993, p. 425). Vast and with a monumental simplicity, Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit captures the daring, experimental sense of plenitude conveyed by Miró’s paintings of the 1970s.