Joan Miró - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • Personnage et oiseaux combines two of Joan Miró’s signature symbols in an explosive, abstracted composition of bold black lines and flashes of pure color. The human figure and bird are core elements of Miró’s symbolic repertoire that fascinated the artist for decades, dating back to his associations with the French Surrealists, but, in the present work, created on February 12, 1963, the symbols’ facture takes on a uniquely Abstract Expressionist tone. Reflecting the movements of the contemporary avant-garde, yet firmly committed to his own symbolic vision, Miró’s Personnage et oiseaux represents the undying curiosity and playful spirit of one of the 20th century’s greatest artistic innovators.


    Growing out of a Parisian, Surrealist context in the 1920s, in which automatism, intuition, and the power of the subconscious were highly valued, Miró developed his own symbolic language of signs. These forms, abstracted from their real-world equivalents, held multivalent and complex meaning in the artist’s finely articulated compositions. The human figure and bird were two of Miró’s most enduring forms—the personnage, at center in the present work, stands with oversize eyes, half-concealed by the strong vertical black lines of the body, and accented with coarse application of pink paint below each eye, like blush. For Miró, open eyes represented an engagement with reality, while closed eyes signified presence in a world of sleep and dreams; the figure in Personnage et oiseaux, thus, falls somewhere in between these worlds. The birds, to the left and right of the figure, function as symbolic links that fly between dreams and reality, in contrast to the grounded human being. Poet and art critic Jacques Dupin identified a dual precarity and balance in Miró’s human and animal pairings; in his words, “nothing is heavy or stabilized in this poetic stylization of [the figure] in the process of metamorphosis between fixity and volatility.”i


    Joan Miró, Le bel oiseau déchiffrant l’inconnu au couple d’amoureux, from Constellations, 1941. 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 

    While the symbols present in Personnage et oiseaux are some of Miró’s favored forms, the attitude of their execution in the present work reveals the influence of midcentury movements in painting on Miró’s practice. Where the figures and birds of Miró’s earlier works are rendered in neat, sinuous, articulate lines, the brushstroke of Personnage et oiseaux is thick and expressive, like the black brushstrokes of Franz Kline. The edges of Miró’s oil paints halo, almost like the work of Helen Frankenthaler. His paint splatters and drips, like Jackson Pollock’s. Miró first became acquainted with the Abstract Expressionists while visiting Alexander Calder, Yves Tanguy and Marcel Duchamp in New York in 1947. Though Miró himself was a stylistic inspiration for the Abstract Expressionists, he was strongly moved by their sense of gesture and handling of paint in turn. Miró recalled that seeing their work was like a "blow to the solar plexus."ii


    Franz Kline, Mahoning, 1956. The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Image: © Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © The Estate of Franz Kline / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    In 1959, Miró made his second trip to the United States to attend the opening of his retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and this renewed contact with his artistic colleagues came at a crucial moment for the artist; he had not painted since 1955, instead focusing on printmaking and ceramics, and this visit provided ample inspiration to return to painting. Compositions like Personnage et oiseaux are bright and evocative of the energy Miró found in Abstract Expressionism.

    The playful handling of paint in Personnage et oiseaux is matched by the work’s board support, a testament not only to Miró’s experimental nature, but to his fertile imagination. As Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud write, “[Miró’s] supports, too, are subject to the same unruliness” as his painting technique, with surfaces that “varied from wooden boards to Masonite, sometimes burned and incised or cork, fibro-cement, cardboard in all its forms, jute, [and] sack cloth glued on newsprint.”iii

    “For me a form is never something abstract; it is always a sign of something. It is always a man, a bird, or something else. For me painting is never form for form's sake.”
    —Joan Miró
    While he embraced the gestural boldness, innovative paint handling, and formal innovation of his American peers, Miró was unwilling to take the leap to completely abstract subject matter. For Miró, form could be abstracted, but never without representational referent. His enduring commitment to his own symbolic language, while incorporating the vibrancy of Abstract Expressionism in Personnage et oiseaux, speaks to the strength of Miró’s personal aesthetic vision.



    i  Jacques Dupin, Miró: Life and Work, London, 1962, p. 485.

    ii  Joan Miró, quoted in Dupin, Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 276.

    iii Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, eds., Joan Miró, Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings 1959-1968, cat. rais., vol. IV, Paris, 2002, p. 10.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice

    • Provenance

      Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
      Marilyn Cole-Fischbach, New York and Paris
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Maeght, Miró Cartons, May 1965, no. 21
      New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Miró “Cartones” 1959-1965, October 19–November 13, 1965, no. 18, n.p. (illustrated; detail illustrated, n.p.)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 319-321, 350-351, 554 (illustrated, p. 351; detail illustrated, pp. 320-321)

    • Literature

      James Johnson Sweeney, Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1970, p. 73 (illustrated)
      Rosa Maria Malet, Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1983, no. 72, pp. 80-81, 128 (illustrated, p. 81)
      Jacques Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró Catalogue raisonné. Paintings. Vol. IV: 1959-1968, Paris, 2002, no. 1035, p. 37 (illustrated)



Personnage et oiseaux

signed "Miró" lower left; signed, titled and dated “MIRO. 12/2/63 Personnage et oiseaux” on the reverse
oil on board
29 x 40 7/8 in. (73.7 x 103.8 cm)
Executed on February 12, 1963.

Full Cataloguing

$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $889,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023