Joan Miró (1893-1983) Femme et oiseau devant le soleil Executed on 10 December 1942

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Lot 21* AR
Joan Miró
Femme et oiseau devant le soleil Executed on 10 December 1942

£ 300,000 - 500,000US$ 380,000 - 630,000
Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Femme et oiseau devant le soleil
signed 'Miró' (lower right); signed again, titled, inscribed and dated 'Joan Miró/ Femme et oiseau devant le soleil/ X/ Barcelone, 10-12-1942.' (on the reverse)
pencil, charcoal, black ink and watercolour on paper
62 x 47cm (24 7/16 x 18 1/2in).
Executed on 10 December 1942


    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
    Donald Morris Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan.
    Simon Dickinson, London.
    Chowaiki/Mosionzhnik Gallery, New York.

    J. Dupin & A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró catalogue raisonné. Drawings, vol.II, 1938-1959, Paris, 2010, no.1026 (illustrated p.122).

    This work is sold with a photo-certificate of authenticity from Monsieur Jacques Dupin, dated Paris, 29 septembre 2002.

    'We Catalans believe that your feet must be firmly planted in the ground if you want to leap into the air. The fact that I come down to earth again from time to time helps me jump all the higher afterwards...' (Miró quoted by H. Hopkins, Director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in Joan Miró: Important paintings, sculptures and graphic works, Harcourts Gallery NYC, exh. cat., New York, 1981, Foreword).

    Femme et oiseau devant le soleil fully expresses Miró's preoccupation with opposing fantasy and reality, a theme that is central to the artist's most significant works of art. Furthermore, it is a painting that gives insight into the artist's specific mode of working in 1942: a pivotal year that saw Miró dedicated to producing only works on paper for the following twenty-four months (Pittura con cornice modernista being the unique exception).

    A year earlier, Miró had completed one of his seminal series of works, the Constellations, which informed much of his painting thereafter and provided the catalyst for works such as Femme et oiseau devant le soleil. The Spanish Civil War had caused Miró to seek exile to France and it was this experience that triggered the Constellations; they were 'the product of the artist's inner thoughts and his poetic feelings inspired by the night, the stars, women and the movement of birds' (R. Penrose, Joan Miró: The Arts Council of Britain, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1964, p.9).

    It was a time of personal crisis and introspection for Miró and the paintings from this period represent the artist's escapism from bleak reality into a fantasy world where he was immersed in nature's beauty.

    The beautiful bird revealing the unknown to a pair of lovers (1941) (fig.1), is one of the most sublime works to emerge from the series, and contains motifs that are recognisable in the later Femme et oiseau devant le soleil. At first glance, it would seem to be a painting that lacks compositional focus, with geometric shapes and forms scattered across the surface of the work. However, with more time, the subject of the painting reveals itself to the viewer: the erotic female figure to the right and the male figure to the lower left of the picture plane both emerge from the web of shapes and stars, alongside the whimsical image of the flying bird to the top left. Contrary to first fleeting impressions of puzzled geometry, this painting exudes a sense of control and happiness, in celebration of the beauty of primal love amidst a composition not unlike an astral chart.

    In 1942 Miró moved to Barcelona and worked towards achieving a more austere style, but one that was heavily influenced by the previous year's work. Woman, Bird, Stars, (fig.2), was exhibited in the retrospective of Miró's work at the Tate Gallery in 1964 and had been executed in the same year as Femme et oiseau devant le soleil. Taken together, they support the notion that Miró's paintings from 1942 combined the artist's own sombre feelings with the escapist painting style developed in the Constellations series. In his introduction for the Joan Miró exhibition catalogue at the Tate Gallery in 1964, Roland Penrose commented on the 'spontaneous liberty' apparent in the drawing of Woman, Birds, Stars and went on to assert that this painting had the compelling appearance of graffiti chalked rapidly on a wall (ibid., p.41). The figures in this painting and Femme et oiseau devant le soleil are recognisable in form from the Constellations piece in fig.1, but the overall composition of these works, produced only a year later, is looser, more expressive and markedly calligraphic.

    Beyond the foreground motifs, the background painting technique that Miró uses in figs. 1 and 2 as well as Femme et oiseau devant le soleil is integral to the visual success of each of these works. Miró explains this very technique himself in his working notes from 1941:

    'The large drawings I will start at the end of 1941 can be enriched by first wetting the paper and then adding a few lines in India ink... on the sheets of the paper that only have a spot or some line or other, there could also be, as a first step, some drawing on wet paper... the medium must play a very important role...' (Miró quoted in 1941 in M. Powell, Joan Miró: selected writings and interviews, Massachusetts, 1992, pp.187-188).

    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. This multi-generational craft tradition affected and sustained Miró's work and undoubtedly had a significant influence upon the themes he explored. 'Simple', 'flat', 'frontal' and 'cartoon-like' are words associated with the Romanesque frescoes of the Catalan arts heritage (which Miro had been exposed to on family museum trips to Barcelona as a child), but can just as easily be applied to Miro's own work.

    As Miró promised in his quote from 1941, his works from 1942 show whimsical drawings in pencil, beside blocks of colour applied with coloured pencils upon which inked figures are defined. Whereas in The beautiful bird revealing the unknown to a pair of lovers (fig.1), completed in 1941, the foreground figures in ink are delineated quite separately from the opalescence of the background pigment, by 1942 the layers of colour and ink have become far more incorporated. The red pigment used within the lines of the central figure in Femme et oiseau devant le soleil describes the vibrancy and character of the figure herself, whereas the blue sky provides narrative for the pencil-drawn bird and an ochre sphere of colour beside a pencil-drawn star indicates the celestial backdrop to the entire composition.

    Significantly for the works from 1942, the colours that Miró applies to the background of his paintings on paper permeate the texture of the surface whereby the background field of colour provides pictorial structure for the flat motifs that overlay it.

    Femme et oiseau devant le soleil provides the opportunity to further our understanding of a key point in Miró's career. But, perhaps even more intriguingly, it provides the viewer with information about the techniques that he used to express pictorially the fantastical world that occupied his dreams beyond the meticulous and detail-orientated preoccupations within the man himself.
Joan Miró (1893-1983) Femme et oiseau devant le soleil Executed on 10 December 1942
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