Joan Miró - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips
  •  “I think a good dealer is also a collector.”
    —Rosa Esman

    Rosa and Aaron Esman assembled an outstanding collection of Modern, Post-War, and Contemporary art over the course of their seventy-year marriage. The collection’s highlights mirror that of Rosa’s career as a gallerist and edition publisher with the strong support of Aaron, a psychoanalyst and passionate collector, with interests in Modernism, Dada, Russian Constructivism, and American Pop Art taking center stage. Rosa began publishing portfolios of prints by contemporary artists in the 1960s. Editions such as the New York Ten Portfolio, 1965, and Ten from Leo Castelli, 1967, which featured works by rising contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg, and helped pioneer the field of artist’s editions and multiples. Her eponymous gallery exhibited in Manhattan for over twenty years, and she was a founding partner of Ubu Gallery, which is still in operation today.


    When asked about her wide artistic tastes in 2009, Rosa emphasized her love of drawing, “the
    quintessential bit of the art,” which can be seen across the Esman collection, regardless of genre.

    Art was one of several passions that Rosa and Aaron shared, even when they began dating in the early 1950s. In 1952, they bought their first artwork together, a drawing by Miró, initiating their shared pursuit of inspired collecting that would continue for the rest of their lives. Rosa recalled: “sometimes we look at something, and I say, ‘Oh, isn’t that marvelous?’ and Aaron would respond, ‘It’s for us.’”i Founded in lifelong love, the Collection of Rosa and Aaron Esman gives a unique vision of the art movements of the 20th century that shaped New York’s art scene.


    A highlight of Rosa and Aaron Esman’s collection, Joan Miró’s 1942 Femmes devant le soleil was the first work the two bought together, acquired from Pierre Matisse in 1952. The work is emblematic of the artist’s playful use of color, line and shape to render figures and symbols. Moving fluidly between representation, symbolism, and total abstraction, Miró consistently experimented with line and figuration throughout his career. Depicting a central female figure with a smaller figure behind her, alongside a beaming red sun, the present work employs Miró’s signature iconography. The only elements that hint at the women’s surroundings are two hazy blue and green orbs to the left of the central figure, presumably representing sky and earth, respectively, situating the women within a landscape. Through the reduction of all representational elements and using only color and form, the present work hints at Miró’s connections to Surrealism, Dada and abstraction – three styles which are prevalent throughout his practice. Created just after the artist’s landmark Constellation series of paintings on paper created between 1940 and 1941, the present work is an evolution of this iconography. The suspension of the amorphous figures atop a highly neutral and reduced backdrop would become a common motif for the artist, and reflects the varied influences that permeated the artist’s practice throughout his life.


    Joan Miro, Constellation: Toward the Rainbow, 1941, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris  



    i Rosa Esman, interviewed by James McElhinney, “Oral History Interview with Rosa Esman,” Archives of American Art, June 9–16, 2009, online.

    • Provenance

      Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
      Rosa and Aaron Esman (acquired from the above in 1952)
      Thence by descent to the present owners

    • Literature

      Jacques Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró: Catalogue Raisonné, Drawings: 1938–1959, vol. 2, Paris, 2010, no. 921, p. 72 (illustrated)

Property from the Collection of Rosa and Aaron Esman


Femmes devant le soleil (Women in Front of the Sun)

signed "Miró" lower right; signed, titled, inscribed and dated "Joan Miró Femmes devant le soleil Palma Majorque 4-1942" on the reverse
pencil, pastel, India ink, gouache and watercolor on paper
12 1/4 x 9 3/4 in. (31.1 x 24.8 cm)
Executed in April 1942.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $381,000

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023