Joan Miró ( Spanish, Barcelona 1893 - 1983 Palma de Mallorca)
Women, Bird, and Snake in Front of the Sun (Femmes, oiseau, et serpent devant le soleil), 1944
Signed in black (oil?) verso: Miro./19441
Oil on canvas
19 11/16-20 1/2 x 15 1/8-15 1/4 in. (50-52 x 38.5-38.7 cm)
Gift of Joseph and Enid Bissett, 1962
The Oberlin painting is from a large group of small drawings and paintings from 1942-46 in which Miró allowed spontaneous effects in the medium of the ground to suggest the pictographic forms which he then carefully painted, at times even inscribed, on top. New forms, surprising color juxtapositions, and increased expressive power were the result of this extended interior journey.
During 1940 and 1941, despite a forced move from Varengue, Normandy, to Spain in May 1940 (just before the Nazis captured Paris), Miró completed the well-known Constellations, a series of twenty-three small gouaches on paper.2 In these brilliant works he abandoned definitively any reference to the external world, and developed a parallel universe of crisply delineated, biomorphic and cosmological forms set against rubbed-in gouache grounds in increasingly complex allover compositions. After that intense project, Miró "felt the need to work more freely, more gaily--to ‘proliferate.'"3 He went on to produce hundreds of small works, all configurations of a few elements--woman or personage; star, moon, or sun; bird or snake--drawn from the Constellations. He produced this body of work between 1942 and 1946 in isolation in Spain, alternating between his studio in Barcelona, the Miró family farm in Montroig, and his wife's family home near the sea in Palma de Mallorca.
As Miró recalled in 1948:4
I produced a great deal at this time, working very quickly. And just as I worked very carefully [in the Constellations] which had immediately preceded these, ‘controlling' everything, now I worked with the least control possible--at any rate in the first phase, the drawing. Even here, however, only the broad outlines were unconsciously done. The rest was carefully calculated. The broad initial drawing, generally in grease crayon, served as a point of departure.... I drew carefully around the stains and made them the center of the composition. The slightest thing served me as a jumping off place in this period.... The first stage is free, unconscious; but after that the picture is controlled throughout, in keeping with that desire for discipline which I have felt from the beginning.
Between 1942 and 1944 Miró worked solely on paper, producing over one hundred drawings of which the AMAM owns two: Women Dreaming of Escape (Femmes rêvant de l'évasion) (dated 1 December 1942),5 and Woman and Bird in Front of the Sun (Femme et oiseau devant le soleil) (dated 25 January 1943).6 He prepared the surface of the first drawing by rubbing pastel onto the board in faint aureoles of color, in a manner reminiscent of the grounds of the final Constellations.7 As he stated in his notebook, he wanted to "provoke accidents"; he didn't want to "do pastels."8 Reacting to this ground, he then carefully created the witty, yet dreamlike crayon drawing, incorporating signs from the Constellations, such as the "escape ladder,"9 vagina, dagger-breasts, the zigzag, etc. The surface of the second drawing, which he wiped with grey wash and black chalk, led to larger forms, a more relaxed bounding line, and crayoned-in areas that form a moving dialogue with the wash beneath.
Sometime in 1944 Miró began to paint on canvas again, producing approximately one hundred small paintings during that year and the next.10 Among them Dupin discovered forty painted on unstretched canvases of irregular shapes: the Oberlin painting is in this group.11 It is executed on a plain-weave, primed canvas (in contrast to the heavy-weave, unprimed canvas used for some works in this series), and is only slightly irregular in shape. Its surface, however, has been greatly worked over, resulting in a ground that is highly tactile but at the same time optically indeterminate. Subdued earthy hues were rubbed and stained into the canvas, and then overpainted in rhythmically placed bursts of color. Some areas--for example, the large central figure--appear to have been broadly and thinly painted in early on, and then wiped or scraped off, leaving grey, semitransparent shadowy stains surrounding the black lines. The black spheres and bodies provide impenetrably solid contrast to the incised lines and the limitless space of the ground.
Like the other drawings and painting in the series, the Oberlin painting contains elements seen earlier in the Constellations. The black sphere of the sun can be seen in the first of that series,12 while the snake appears in the second (and others).13 The central figure, on the other hand, appears to have originated in a watercolor and charcoal drawing of 1942.14In 1945 Miró went on to paint a cycle of large paintings, which number among his best-known works. The small works of 1942-46, many of which are in private collections, are not well known, and have not been studied as a group,15 but in them Miró invented the vocabulary of forms he was to use in all media throughout the rest of his life.
J. S. Wilker
Work (C) 1998 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
The son of a goldsmith, Miró was born in Barcelona on 20 April 1893. In 1907 he began a business course as well as art classes at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios de la Lonja. Illness ended his brief turn as a bookkeeper and his business career. After recuperating at the family farm in Montroig, in Tarrogona, an area to which he returned throughout his life and from which he drew much imagery, Miró devoted himself to making art. From 1912 to 1915 he studied at Francesc Gal’'s Escola d'Art in Barcelona. He was also exposed to trends in international contemporary art, and his early work consists of a highly personal fusion of avant-garde pictorial practices (Cézannist, Fauvist, Cubist, etc.) and Catalan content.
Miró went to Paris for the first time in 1920, and moved there the following year. He set up a studio (next to that of André Masson), and had his first solo exhibition. By 1924 his work had changed crucially from descriptive realism and illusionistic space to his individual style of imaginary abstraction and biomorphic sign. He associated, exhibited, and published with the Surrealists at this time, and André Breton wrote that "he [Miró] could perhaps pass for the most 'Surrealist' of us all."16 An individualist and largely apolitical, however, Miró never officially joined Surrealist movement, or engaged in its polemics.
During the next fifteen years, moving seasonally back and forth between Barcelona, Montroig, and Paris, he worked in investigative series, each pushing the limits of how paintings could be made: dream paintings (1925-27), imaginary landscapes (1926-27), collage objects (1928), Dutch interiors (1928), imaginary portraits (1929), paper collages (1929), constructions and assemblages (1930), painting-objects (1931-32), paintings based on collages (1933), tapestry cartoons (1934), peintures sauvages (1935), and paintings on copper (1935-36). Several works of the late '30s appear to refer to current events in Spain and Europe in their violent color, increasing proportion of black, and tortured imagery. He also designed sets for the Ballet Russe (1926 and 1932), and learned etching (1938).
On the eve of the Second World War, Miró was living at Varengeville, on the Normandy coast. The Nazi invasion of France forced him to return to Spain, where he lived during the war (see Main Text). In 1941, however, his first major retrospective was held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and in 1942 his work was included in the opening of Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery. In 1945 his Constellations were shown in New York, and in 1947 a group of the drawings and paintings of 1944 were shown at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. At that time Miró came to New York, and out of isolation. He was commissioned to do murals for Cincinnati's Terrace Plaza Hotel (1947) and Harvard University's Harkness Commons dining room (1950), and ceramic walls for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1955). He continued to paint on canvas, and also became deeply engaged with the creative possibilities of printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and stained glass.
Miró's unique achievements have been recognized with many major exhibitions: London (1965), Paris (1956, 1962, 1974, 1993), New York (1941, 1959, 1986, 1993), Barcelona (1968, 1992), and elsewhere. He died on 25 December 1983 in Palma de Mallorca.
Dupin, Jacques. Joan Miró: Life and Work. New York, 1962.
Rowell, Margit, ed. Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews. Boston, 1986.
Joan Miró: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1987.
Weelan, Guy. Miró. New York, 1989.
Lanchner, Caroyn. Joan Miró . Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 1993.
Dupin, Jacques. Joan Miró. New York, 1993.
The artist to Pierre Matisse, New York (probably 1946)17
Collection Gordon Bunschaft, New York
Collection Joseph and Enid Bissett, New York, by whom given in 1962
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975-76. Extended loan for exhibition with permanent collection. 9 April 1975 - 22 December 1976. No cat.
Dupin, Jacques. Joan Miró, Life and Work. New York, 1962, no. 616, p. 547.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, p. 108, fig. 144.
Spencer, John. "The Bissett Collection." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 26, no. 1 (Fall 1968), p. 5.
Rose, Barbara. Miró in America. Exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982. Unpaginated checklist.
The irregular shape of the painting is original. Draws along the left edge suggest that the canvas was cut from a larger primed and stretched support, but the painting itself was not stretched until after the work was completed. Small holes scattered throughout (now filled and inpainted) may indicate that the canvas was temporarily tacked to a firm support.18 The canvas was lined in 1978 with silicon adhesive, and the lining fabric attached to a stretcher.
The ground consists of two moderate layers of white oil paint. (Miró used preprimed canvases and frequently added a second layer of ground.) In 1978, areas of exposed ground between the edges of the painted image and the edges of the canvas were consolidated with gelatin.
The paint ranges from thin washes of color--purposely rubbed, or sanded, to expose the ground--to more opaque areas. Some designs have been scratched in the paint exposing underlying paint layers. In the large forms, paint lies on top of varnish and appears matte. Four of the green dabs exhibit a brush structure. The white form at the top shows a slight impasto.
Fifteen small holes in the canvas were filled and inpainted in 1978; the surface was also cleaned at this time. Since some of the paint lies above the varnish, the coating is original. No later varnish is present. The left and top edges of the canvas are slightly frayed and curled. There are slight horizontal creases visible in the lower half of the painting, as well as some diagonal creases in the round black forms (some of these may have existed in the canvas before Miró painted the composition). There are minor losses in the ground along the edges of the canvas, as well as minor cracks here and in some of the thicker areas of paint.
1. Inscribed in pencil on verso: JM /409 and: femmes et oisseau et serpent devant le soleil.
2. The Constellation series is discussed and fully illustrated in color in Carolyn Lanchner, Joan Miró (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993). See also Roland Penrose, Joan Miró(New York, 1969), pp. 100ff. These works were extremely influential for American Abstract Expressionist painters; see Barbara Rose, Miró in America (exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982), pp. 33-34.
3. From an interview with James Johnson Sweeney, originally published in "Joan Miró: Comment and Interview," Partisan Review, 1948. Reprinted as an appendix in Miró in America (exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982), p. 118.
4. From an interview with James Johnson Sweeney, originally published in "Joan Miró: Comment and Interview," Partisan Review, 1948. Reprinted as an appendix in Miró in America (exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1982), pp. 118-19.
5. Crayon, pastel and gouache on pulpboard; AMAM inv. 64.29.
6. Black chalk, grey wash, blue and black pastel, and red gouache; AMAM inv. 64.30.
7. See The Passage of the Divine Bird (private collection); reproduced in Joan Miró(exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993), p. 260.
8. Margit Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews(Boston, 1986), pp. 188.
9. See The Escape Ladder (private collection); reproduced in Joan Miró (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993), p. 239.
10. Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work (New York, 1962), nos. 561-678, all ill. Color illustrations of a few appear in Dupin's recent Miró (New York, 1993), and in Jacques Lassaigne, Miró (Lausanne, 1963).
11. Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work(New York, 1962), nos. 616-642, 668, 669, 671-78. In his 1940-41 notebook, Miró seems to indicate that he already had at least some of these pieces of canvas, and had been planning what to do with them: "I would subdivide the series of canvas remnants into two series: the first--bits of canvas without a stretcher--are inside the portfolio...I have left several of these canvas bits as is"; Margit Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews (Boston, 1986), p. 193.
12. See Sunrise (private collection); reproduced in Joan Miró(exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993), p. 238.
13. See The Escape Ladder (private collection); reproduced in Joan Miró (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993), p. 239.
14. See Woman in the Night, 1942, watercolor and charcoal, 62 x 46 cm, location unknown; reproduced in Guy Weelan, Miró (New York, 1989), fig. 170.
15. Several works (not the Oberlin painting) were used to illustrate Tristan Tzara's essay, "Pour passer le temps..." in Cahier d'art 20-21 (1945-46), pp. 277-93.
16. André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme/Poisson soluble (Paris, 1924), p. 42. Reprinted in Lucy R. Lippard, ed., Surrealists on Art (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1970), p. 20.
17. A contract signed 30 July 1946, Barcelona, between Miró and Pierre Matisse, arranged for the disposition of the oeuvre de guerre (works from 1942-46) with Matisse; the following year, however, the contract was annulled. See "Notes to the Chronology," in Joan Miró (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, 1993), p. 359 n. 690. The contract is in the archives of the Pierre Matisse Foundation, New York. Several drawings from the series ended up at Galerie Maeght, Paris, which is where the Bissetts obtained the two drawings mentioned in this entry.
18. See the treatment and condition reports (ICA 29/78) in the museum files.