Joan Miró's monumental Femme is a powerful celebration of fecundity, primal instincts, and the creation of life. Conceived in 1981, it is one of a small group of large-scale bronzes inspired by Miró's first experiments in sculptural modeling almost two decades earlier. The formal lineage of Femme goes back to the biomorphic creatures that emerged in the celebrated series of Constellations Miró painted in 1940-1941, and in the Barcelona Series of lithographs completed in 1944.
The present sculpture comes from a series of forms the artist created of women and birds that looked as though they had stepped out of one of his fantastical paintings. Femme appears as a monstrous but whimsical Neolithic fertility goddess, with her short truncated arms, protruding, bulbous buttocks, arched incisions and tear-shaped recess that is a typically Miróesque emblem of her sex. The vast vaginal crevice and monumental form of Femme illustrates Miró's metamorphic understanding of what he termed humankind's 'true reality,' where 'forms give birth to other forms, constantly changing into something else. They become each other and in this way create the reality of a universe of signs and symbols in which figures pass from one realm to another, their feet touching the roots, becoming roots themselves as they disappear into the flowing hair of the constellations' (J. Miró, 'Statement', in XXe siècle, Paris, June 1957 reproduced in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 240).
Throughout his artistic career, Miró fixated on the idea of woman as the ultimate generative symbol, connecting her with the fecundity of the earth, with creativity, and the artist's own flights of imagination. This persistent, reoccurring image can be traced back to his Surrealist masterpieces of the 1920s. The nurturing, procreative female closely correlates with Miró's organic and vitalist vision and his deep connection to the Catalonian countryside. Like much of the artist's work, Femme departs from representation and reality in an attempt to stimulate the imagination.
Miró's sculptures were the crowning achievement of his late career. Although he had created surrealist painting-objects during the late 1920s and 1930s, it was not until a decade later, while he was living in Palma, Montroig and Barcelona during the Second World War, that he considered making large free-standing forms. He wrote in his Working Notes, 1941-1942, jotted down in Montroig: '. . . it is in sculpture that I will create a truly phantasmagoric world of living monsters; what I do in painting is more conventional.' He also noted his desire to build himself a 'big studio, full of sculptures that give you a tremendous feeling of entering a new world . . . unlike the paintings that are turned facing the wall or images done on a flat surface, the sculptures must resemble living monsters who live in the studio–a world apart." (J. Miró quoted in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 175).
The possibility of undertaking larger and more imposing sculptures became a reality when Miró's 'big studio,' about which the artist had dreamed for years, was finally built in 1956, in Palma. He would produce nothing more in bronze until 1966, but after that point his work became monumental in scale, executed under his supervision by skilled enlargers. These bronzes can be determined as two distinct types: those that have been modeled in clay and those that have been assembled from found objects. The former, including the present Femme, tend to be smooth and rounded, swollen with mass and yet despite their great weight they appear light, buoyant, and full of life. The latter are often rough and jagged, or are painted in vibrant, eye-popping colors.
Miró's close friend and biographer Jacques Dupin describes how he had initially looked upon the artist's sculptures as works created in conjunction with his better known achievements in painting. However, he eventually revised this view, in light of the scope and scale of the artist's later work in bronze: 'The sculptures from the last two decades of Miró's productive life took on a broad place and force. For Miró, sculpture became an intrinsic adventure, an important means of expression that competed with the canvas and sheet of paper–the domains and artistic spaces proper to Miró–without ever simply being a mere derivative or deviation from painting. Miró's approach and conception of sculpture offered him an immediate contact with a reality that, in painting, was attainable through the screen of an elaborately constructed language' (J. Dupin, in Miró, Barcelona, 2004, pp. 361 & 367).
Joan Miró, Constellations: L’oiseau-migrateur, 26 May 1941. Private collection.
Joan Miró, Femme dans la nuit, 6 April 1945. Private collection.