Striking and very personal works by two of the great innovators of 20th century art, Joan Miró and Marc Chagall, lead Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art sale in London on 19 June.
Joan Miró's Femme et oiseau devant le soleil executed in December 1942 is a shimmering example of the style he adopted in the early 1940s after fleeing Nazi occupied France. It was a time of great personal crisis and introspection for the artist and the works from this period represent his escapism from bleak reality into a fantasy world where he was immersed in nature's beauty.
The depiction of a woman with a bird against the background of the sun builds on the iconography Miró adopted in his influential series of works, Constellations, painted in 1940 and 1941. These are themes which dominated much of his output for the rest of his life. The work, in pencil, charcoal, black ink and watercolour on paper, is estimated at £300,000-500,000.
Miró had inherited a deep-rooted understanding of materials and technique from his family's own dedication to the arts and craftsmanship; Miró's father was a goldsmith and watchmaker while his paternal grandfather was a blacksmith and his maternal grandfather was a cabinetmaker.
Chagall owed a similar debt to the deep-rooted sense of folklore and religious heritage that his family had nurtured for centuries so apparent in his 1956 painting Etude pour la nuit de Vence (est £200,000-300,000). Painted in the South of France where he had settled on his return to the country from war time exile in the USA it also reflects Chagall's own deeply felt emotional experiences.
Behind the painting lies personal tragedy and turmoil. In 1944, as Chagall and Bella, his wife of 30 years, were preparing to leave America and settle in France she died unexpectedly of a viral infection. The penicillin needed to treat it was reserved for the military and permission to release a supply for civilian use came too late. He sought consolation in the arms of his married housekeeper by whom he had a child and, although this new unofficial family accompanied him to France in 1950, within two years he had married again, to Valentina, the woman who remained his companion for the rest of his life.
The deep tensions which Chagall experienced throughout this period can be seen in the choice of motifs depicted in the top left of Etude pour la nuit de Vence - the violinist, cockerel and goat immersed in deep red pigment and floating in the night sky. At the bottom of canvas, is a beautifully haunting image of a couple who lie locked in an embrace and somewhat hidden within the landscape. We may never be sure of the identities of the woman depicted in this work, but certainly it is an insight into the complex and emotional psyche of the artist himself.