Joan Miró (1893-1983) Femme, étoile (Painted on 8 February 1978)

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Lot 9AR
Joan Miró
Femme, étoile

Sold for £ 260,750 (US$ 332,564) inc. premium
Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Femme, étoile
signed 'Miro' (centre right); inscribed and dated '8/II/78. Femme, étoile' (verso)
oil on canvas
34.8 x 22cm (13 11/16 x 8 11/16in).
Painted on 8 February 1978


  • Provenance
    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, no. 3081.
    Acquavella Modern Art, Reno, Nevada, no. 676.
    Galerie Larock-Granoff, Paris.
    Galleria Torbandena, Trieste.
    Galleria Tega, Milan.
    Private collection, Switzerland; their sale, Bonhams, London, 2 February 2014, lot 27.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

    J. Dupin & A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné, Paintings, Vol. VI, 1976 - 1981, Paris, 2004, no. 1874 (illustrated p. 120).

    Painted in 1978, this would be the final year of Miró's hitherto prolific work in this medium – from 1974 the artist completed over two hundred paintings on canvas, on both small and larger scales, leaving yet another sixty canvases unfinished and unsigned. This departure from painting on canvas was to mark the close of an immensely fecund and pioneering period in the work of Miró on this support, where from the early 1960s his appreciation of American Abstract Expressionism had provoked a new creative impetus which was to inform the rest of his career.

    Inspired by the instinctive and gestural style of painting being enacted by the likes of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell, Miró perceived a new way for his painting which released him from the traditional canon. American painting he confessed had 'showed me a direction I wanted to take but which up to then had remained at the stage of unfulfilled desire. When I saw these paintings, I said to myself, 'you can do it, too: go to it, you see it is O.K.!' You must remember that I grew up in the school of Paris. That it was hard to break away from' (Joan Miró quoted in interview with Margit Rowell, 1970, in M. Rowell, (ed.), Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 219).

    Femme, étoile, expresses the raw, unfettered energy of Miró's works from the 1970s and acts in direct contrast to the carefully placed lines and compositions of the 1940s and 50s. The powerful juxtaposition of black against white pigment in Femme, étoile calls to mind the expressive strokes and palette of Kline or Motherwell, while the spontaneously applied notes of pure colour introduce a rhythm which galvanises the composition as a whole as the eye darts from one hue to another. There is a sense of vitality and spontaneity of expression which pervades the work. This is conveyed as much as by the convergence of expressive line and colour, as by the style of execution which reveals the impulsive energy which brought it into being.

    Although painted entirely in oil, Miró achieves a vast range of textural effects. Working quickly into the wet black paint with a sharp instrument, we see the way in which Miró scores out the suggestion of limbs or facial features. Meanwhile, he employs differing techniques to render the fuzzy-edged circles of ochre and plum or the carefully contained segments of green, vermillion and yellow. Miró explores the expressive possibilities of the media working from moment to moment to adjust the content of his composition to the accidents and opportunities of his hand and material. He states, 'For me, the essential things are the artistic and poetic occurrences, the associations of forms and ideas: a form gives me an idea, this idea evokes another form, and everything culminates in figures, animals, and things I had no way of foreseeing in advance' (Joan Miró quoted in interview with Yvon Taillandier, 1974, in M. Rowell, (ed.), op. cit., Boston, 1986, p. 284).

    Despite the directness of its title and appearance of the star to the upper left of the canvas, the figurative element of Femme, étoile is not immediately discernable amid its confluence of shape and line. The expressive black and scored-out contours of the central form perpetually elude pictorial decipherment. They hang simultaneously between figuration and abstraction, in one instant revealing a distilled, purified sign of the human form, and in the next dissembling into incidental gesture. There is a tension which propels and undergirds the work in the space between accident and intent, possibility and being: 'When we do spot a bird or a woman, the result is no longer a use of fantastical, graceful or sensual possibilities for our enjoyment, but the stark presence of the figure, its energy is liberated by the suspension of form and delayed realisation of its will to exist' (J. Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1993, p. 303)

    Women and stars is a theme to which Miró returned time and again throughout his career. The coupled motif was first referenced in the pivotal Constellations series of 1941 from which the tripartite motif of woman-bird-star became a staple of Miró's pictorial vocabulary. In Miró's personal mythology the female comes to signify the earth and fertility, while the star acts as its counterpoint denoting the aerial and celestial element. In Chiffres et constellations amoureux d'une femme from the 1941 Constellations series we are able to clearly locate the repeated star motif as well as to detect the deconstructed body of the female scattered and integrated within the composition. Here, Miró's use of symbol is employed in a more literal and contextual way. Femme, étoile by contrast, despite returning to the smaller, more intimate format of the Constellations series, defies any predefined symbolic concepts through its resistance to reveal clear pictorial signs.

    While the means become more sparing and the semiotic framework more fluid, the late paintings are undeniably charged with more profound meaning and associations. In these works, and as seen in Femme, étoile, there is a paring down and purifying of gesture which creates a new space for the viewer to develop their own interpretative imagination and free associations unrestrained by the artist's predefined signs and symbolic meanings: 'By limiting myself to a few spare lines, I tried to give the gesture a quality so individual that it becomes almost anonymous – like a universal act. [I wanted] to suppress all hierarchies in the world of objects and signs' (Joan Miró quoted in interview with Denys Chevalier, November 1962, in M. Rowell, (ed.), op. cit., 1986, p. 270).
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