Joan Miró - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 17, 2023 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • In Joan Miró’s L’Espace, 1937, a fiery red oval of thick oil paint floats against a background of blue gouache, dotted with black spots and squiggles. The black lines curl into the abstracted forms of animals, people, and celestial bodies; the crescent mark over the red shape, perhaps, a crescent moon. The title conjures Miró’s signature poetics, which were particularly strong in his period of association with the Parisian Surrealists. L’Espace may refer to the blue space, or the red space at center; maybe, this is a painting of outer space, or even the space of the unconscious mind. The multivalent interpretations of Miró’s work complicate the formal simplicity of his visual language; L’Espace shows Miró’s imagination at work at a critical point in his career.


    Miro working on The Reaper (now lost) for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World Fair, 1937. Image: © 2023 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

    In 1937, Miró lived in exile. The Spanish Civil War had broken out in 1936, and Miró, who was visiting Paris at the outset of the conflict, found himself in involuntary exile for the next four years; as a proud Catalan and Republican, he could not return to Barcelona safely. The artist was anxious to be away from his homeland at such a violent and stressful time, but, as Margit Rowell writes, “despite his sense of dislocation, during this period Miró produced some of his greatest works, which expressed an inner turmoil and a profound desire to keep a hold on reality.” i


    Pablo Picasso, Large Bather with a Book, 1937. Musée Picasso, Paris. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York  

    In fact, 1937 was an incredibly fertile year for the artist. He was commissioned by the Republican Spanish Government to decorate the Spanish Pavilion for the Paris World’s Fair, where his mural, The Reaper (Catalan Peasant in Revolt), stood alongside Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, in a strong, dual message of anti-fascism and Catalan pride. He returned to drawing from direct observation for the first time in years, with masterworks such as Still Life with Old Shoe, 1937, and Self-Portrait I, 1937, both in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Still Life and Self-Portrait I bookend the creation of L'Espace, dated September 20, 1937 by the artist. L’Espace reflects a critical part of Miró’s painting practice: the importance of taking space within his creative process.
    “The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me. I am overwhelmed when I see a crescent moon or the sun in an immense sky. In my works there are often tiny forms in vast empty spaces. Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains—everything that has been stripped bare has always made a strong impression on me.”
    —Joan Miró 

    When explaining his creative process in a 1959 interview, Miró returned often to the idea of space (l’espace), or atmosphere. The meaning of the word is two-fold for the artist. He speaks of une atmosphère, as in the environs that inspire the work, which includes his titles: “I find my titles in the process of working, as one thing leads to another… When I have found the title, I live in its atmosphere."i For Miró, the atmosphere of a title is an “exact reality,” as real and inspiring as a grand vista or nude model.iii The idea of space also refers to the space needed to think and reflect in the creative process. “If a painting that I am working on stays in my studio for years, it doesn’t bother me,” Miró said. “On the contrary, when I am surrounded by paintings whose point of departure is lively enough to produce a series of rhymes, a new life, new living things, I am happy…”iv In the creative context of 1937, L’Espace provides that essential space that allows the artist to explore freely.


    Joan Miró, Triptych Bleu I, II, III, 1961. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Image: © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 

    In L’Espace, we see Miró working through some of the visual motifs and color combinations that would become his signatures. In both his visual and poetic language, Miró’s work is more complex than meets the eye. In the seemingly monochrome blue background, for instance, marks of fluorescent yellow turn into green at bottom right; within the blue, Miró has strategically thinned the blue gouache with water, to produce a soft effect, spattered at the edges with visible brushstrokes. This technique anticipates the rich backgrounds of his iconic 1961 work, Triptych Bleu. Over the blue of L’Espace, passages of dry grey, nearly black, mark the spaces set aside for the red and black forms, a color combination that foreshadows the artist’s Constellations series of 1940-1941. As in this later series, L’espace revels in the contrasting effects of gouache and oil paint—Miró’s black lines stand out against the soft wash of blue, in sharp relief against the intentionally smudged background.


    Taken together, the elements of L’Espace represent the particular spontaneity of Miró’s “most empty and abstract works;” “les espaces vides” that so inspired the artist, which Rowell attributes to the “inner vision and a rigorous discipline” Miró maintained over the course of his creative process, however turbulent the present moment may be.v L’Espace is a mental respite, an expression of Miró’s imagination in action; it is, as Miró might say, a “true expression of the spirit.”vi



    Margit Rowell, ed., “Introduction,” Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1992, p. 14.

    ii Joan Miró, quoted in Yvon Taillandier, “I work like a gardener,” XXe siècle, Paris, 1959, translated in Rowell, p. 249.

    iii Miró, quoted in Yvon Taillandier, Joan Miró: I Work Like a Gardener, New York, 2017, p. 70.

    iv Miró, quoted in Taillandier, translated in Rowell, 250.

    Rowell, The Captured Imagination: Drawings by Joan Miró from the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, exh. cat., The American Federation of Arts, 1987, p. 20; Miró, quoted in Taillandier, 66.

    vi Miró, quoted in Taillandier, ibid.

    • Provenance

      Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
      Perls Galleries, New York
      R. Kaller-Kimche, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner on February 21, 1984

    • Literature

      Jacques Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró. Catalogue raisonné. Drawings. Volume I: 1901-1937, Paris, 2008, no. 754, pp. 356, 385 (illustrated, p. 357)

Ο ◆38


signed “Miró” lower right; signed, titled and dated “MIRÓ “L’Espace” 20/9/37” on the reverse
oil and gouache on paper
41 1/2 x 29 3/4 in. (105.4 x 75.6 cm)
Executed on September 20, 1937.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $381,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2023