Joan Miró - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Joan Miró, 'Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d'un vol d'oiseaux', Lot 5

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1954

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Maeght, Joan Miró: Oeuvres récentes, June 19 - August 1953, no. 19
    New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Miró: Recent Paintings, November 17 - December 19, 1953, no. 19, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1961, no. 792, p. 544 (illustrated)
    Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1993, no. 313, p. 292 (illustrated)
    Jacques Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró: Catalogue raisonné. Paintings, vol. III, Paris, 2001, no. 901, p. 184 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “We Catalans believe that you must plant your feet firmly on the ground if you want to be able to jump high in the air. The fact that I come down to earth from time to time makes it possible to jump higher” – Joan Miró

    We are grateful to Charles Stuckey, Art Historian and former curator of French Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and 20th Century Painting and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, for his expertise and assistance with the research of this work.

    From a verdant expanse, Joan Miró’s Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux, 1952, presents his playful vignette: a bird presented over three states festoons a Catalan peasant, donning a traditional barretina. As with any masterwork by the artist, there is more at play here than simple mimetic illustration of the title. The protagonist’s red Catalan cap is also the bulbous red nose with upturned nostrils of a critter, or even the "O" of the artist’s name, hidden in plain sight. In this painting, we see Miró returning to some of the most significant thematic preoccupations explored in his work before the war, but through the lens of his post-war experience. A rare but incredibly totemic subject for the artist, Miró explored the symbolic resonance of the Catalan peasant in some of his earliest important works from the 1920s, including his Catalan Peasants from 1924 and 1925 in Tate, London and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. respectively. Here, the green color field, a rarity in his oeuvre, signals the hopeful mood pervasive in the 1950s rather than acting as a direct representation of the fertile landscape the peasant inhabits.

    Unseen for over six decades, the painting was first and last seen in 1953 when shown as a highlight in the artist’s major post-war survey exhibitions at Galerie Maeght, Paris and Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, which served to present his recent work to an international audience. The painting was acquired at the conclusion of the Pierre Matisse show in 1953 and has been held in the same family collection ever since.

    From the early 1920s, Miró took to hiding or incorporating the letters of his name in many of his most important works. That is indeed the case here in Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux, where the disparate elements which comprise his composition coalesce to spell MIRÓ. The soaring bird in the upper right forms the “M”; the avian-like figure careening down the length of the right side forms the “I”; the curves of the main protagonist echo the “R” and the “O” can equally be found in two exclamation points within the composition: the puntos of the barretina or the “bullseye” of the figure itself. The letters swirl over the expanse of his composition, almost as though they are floating on the atmosphere he has breathed into the picture plane itself. Miró could have been speaking to the inception of this work when he espoused in 1953, “Rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting and as I paint the picture begins to assert itself under my brush. The form becomes a sign for a woman, or for a bird as I work” (Joan Miró, quoted in Joan Miró: Recent Paintings, exh. cat., Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1953, n.p.).

    With Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux, Miró returns to the hero of several of his most important works from before the War, the Catalan peasant. As in such paintings as the seminal Tête de paysan catalan, 1925, Tate, London, and his celebrated lost masterpiece, Le Faucheur, for the Republican Spanish Pavilion in the 1937 World Fair, the protagonist of this work dons the traditional red barretina. Robert Desnos recalled that Miró kept one of these “liberty” caps in his studio and the artist's notebooks indicate that he had even contemplated including a Catalan cap in one of his early self-portraits (Joan Miró, Catalan Notebooks, London, 1977, p. 134). The theme was one which strongly resonated for the artist, who like many Spaniards, presumably saw the peasant, and his way of life, as rooted in nature, as a nostalgic anachronism to the recent socio-political climate.

    In Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux, the peasant makes his reappearance in both the content of the picture and its poetic title, emphasizing his centrality to the work. Speaking of the theme, Miró explains, “The Catalan character is not like that of Málaga or other parts of Spain. It is very much down-to-earth. We Catalans believe you must always plant your feet firmly on the ground if you want to be able to jump up in the air. The fact that I come down to earth from time to time makes it possible for me to jump all the higher” (Joan Miró, quoted in James Johnson Sweeney, “Joan Miró: Comment and Interview”, Partisan Review, February 1948).

    His peasant fills the picture plane, a veritable giant among the fauna of his environment, recalling Odilon Redon’s The Cyclops, circa 1914 or The Colossus, by 1818, by his forbearer, Francisco de Goya. Miró’s title suggests that his protagonist is also under assault, with birds diving and swooping close by. Within the body of the peasant, Miró has articulated swathes of red and yellow paint punctuated with black spots. The colors perhaps refer to the Catalan flag (replete with a star in the lower right corner) as Miró articulated in his masterwork, The Catalan Landscape (The Hunter), 1923-1924, Tate, London. But in Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux, Miró has taken this analogy one step further by having his protagonist become the literal embodiment of the landscape.

    The connection between the peasant and the earth, the generative nature of the creative impulse invoked by the shape of the hat, as well as the otherwise immaterial noise and motion of the birds—all these are poetically evoked in a manner that emphasizes Miró’s deep humanity. Miró was able to take a fragment of everyday life and transform it, like an alchemist, into the most evocative scene. It was doubtless in recognition of this quality that his compatriot Picasso would tell him, “After me, you are the one who is opening a new door” (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Margi Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 102).

    In the 1950s, Miró once again employed the vivid and enigmatic titles that first accompanied his works decades earlier when engaged with the Surrealists in Paris. More than direct signifiers of the content of his paintings, Miró saw titles as important components in their own right and avowed, “I make no distinction between poetry and painting” (Joan Miró, quoted in Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 432). The title here, which speaks to the alarm one feels when a bird swoops closely, becomes a point of entry for the articulation of Miró’s visual universe.

    Miró explained: “I found my titles in the process of working, as one thing leads to another on my canvas. When I have found the title, I live in its atmosphere. The title then becomes completely real for me, in the same way that a model, a reclining woman, for example, can become real for another painter. For me, the title is a very precise reality” (Joan Miró, “I work like a gardener”, XXe Siècle, Paris, February 15, 1959).

    Miró presents the birds in Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux in three states and styles: a tendril-like nestling in the lower left, a schematic diving bird in the upper right, and an expressionist form along the right-hand side. Birds are a persistent thematic element in both Miró’s art and that of Surrealism, where they were perceived as conduits for the contradictory states of “reality” and “unreality.” As John G. Frey remarks, birds acted as “reflections of the ‘actual,’ transformed, as in dreams, by the wishes and desires of the poet” (John G. Frey, “Miró and the Surrealists”, Parnassus, vol. 8, no. 5, October 1936, p. 15).

    Miró extends this concept with the atmospheric ground in Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux which operates at once as landscape and as indeterminate space. Miró lays down the green ground, leaving an aura of electric white that seemingly emanates from the peasant and right-hand bird-like creature. In doing so, he lends the picture a vivid energy and poetic counterpoint to the considered rendering of the other figures.

    A characteristic compositional technique that found its ultimate articulation in his Constellations in the post-war period, areas of paint like those within the present work would come to dominate entire compositions, with variegated and textured backgrounds emerging in works such as L’oiseau au regard calme les ailes en flammes, 1952, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Peinture, 1953, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

    In 1953, Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux was included in comprehensive exhibitions at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York and Galerie Maeght in Paris. Around the same time that the present work was painted, Miró began working with dealer Aimé Maeght, who was responsible for injecting a new energy into his representation in Europe. Matisse hosted the artist’s first post-war exhibition in America in January 1945, showing Miró’s Constellations, a group of densely worked, lyrical pictures which had been painted around the beginning of the invasion of France during World War II. The significance of that exhibition marked a new level of appreciation for Miró’s works in America.

    The 1953 exhibitions were scheduled to take place on the occasion of the artist’s 60th birthday and were especially exciting for their comprehensive presentation of paintings, a medium for which there had been a dearth of works since the War. The works in these shows, many of which are now in permanent institutional collections, were celebrated for their reassertion of Miró’s painterly vision, a singular aesthetic which first emerged in the paintings the artist created in Paris in the 1920s. Miró was clearly conscious of the impact that these two linked and consecutive exhibitions could have, and asked Matisse to send works to Paris, writing the previous year, “I have every confidence that you will lend some paintings for the exhibition that Maeght and I are preparing for Paris in 1953. You will certainly understand that this show will be of the highest importance for the three of us” (Joan Miró, quoted in John Russell, Matisse: Father and Son, New York, 1999, p. 344).

    Matisse arranged for James Johnson Sweeney, then director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, to write the catalogue text for which Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux was chosen to illustrate. Sweeney had a history of championing the artist in America: in his previous role as director of the Museum of Modern Art, he facilitated a number of important acquisitions of the artist’s work and was responsible for the seminal 1941 exhibition which helped cement Miró’s reputation in America.

    The works presented in the Pierre Matisse exhibition represent the last significant assembly of paintings the artist undertook before becoming preoccupied with a more diverse selection of graphic arts, including ceramics, lithographs, and engravings. This shift was Miró’s solution to ensure his art reached a broader audience through more accessible media, an ambition he had already begun to manifest with his mural commissions at the Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati in 1947 and Harvard University Graduate School in 1950-1951. Miró’s increasing focus on mural paintings and works in other media meant that his oils on canvas in the 1950s were relative rarities. In fact, from late 1954, Miró would completely abandon painting on canvas until 1959.

Property from a Distinguished Family Collection


Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d'un vol d'oiseaux

signed "Miró" lower right; further signed, inscribed, titled and dated “19 Miró 1952 PAYSAN CATALAN INQUIET PAR LE PASSAGE D’UN VOL D’OISEAUX” on the reverse
oil on canvas
36 1/8 x 28 5/8 in. (91.8 x 72.7 cm.)
Painted in 1952.

$7,000,000 - 10,000,000 

Sold for $4,580,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019