Joan Miró - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, April 20, 2021 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Gift of the artist
    René LeMoigne, Paris

  • Literature

    Fernand Mourlot 959-990
    Patrick Cramer books 188

  • Catalogue Essay

    René LeMoigne together with Guy Veliot were Miro's printers while he was working in the Maeght printing studio in Levallois. René described how Miró approached his plates: "I give him a zinc plate and he starts off by working very fast, with utter freedom and extraordinary speed. He doesn't use any particular tools, but rather natural instruments, his fingers. He achieves many transparencies and washed effects with his fingers.." Yvon Taillandier, Miró grafías: dibujos, grabados sobre cobre, lithographs, grabados sobre madera, libros, carteles, Barcelona, Gustavo Gili, 1972, p. 71

    Miro had long planned to illustrate a book by Robert Desnos in the late 1920's, but the project was delayed by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and subsequently the Second World War, in which Desnos was an active member of the French Resistance. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and sent to several concentration camps including Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Desnos survived the war only to die of typhoid a few weeks after the liberation of the camp where he was held. Nearly 30 years later, Desnos' widow approached Miro with the idea of illustrating his works again. In the end they settled on Pénalités de l'enfer ou les nouvelles Hébrides (The Penalties of Hell or The New Hebrides), Desnos' first work in prose, written in Morocco in 1922.

    As Renee Riese Hubert writes in her deeply analyzed essay on the portfolio:

    This late sumptuous work and livre d’artiste by Miro and using Robert Desnos’ first work in prose ("it is indeed my first work in prose, written without any preoccupation by my own amusement and to be rid at any cost of the emptiness I experienced at the beginning of the year") from 1922 defies the usual parallels between image and text and shows dynamic affinities with typography and image - with the box turning "the book into an object, a treasure house temptingly dangerous by reason of its title, which ironically warns of eternal retribution." The portfolio lacks any perceptible unity - fragments of proverbs, poetry and songs along with numerous lithographs by Miro all tied together with the most exuberant, varied typography by Michel Otthoffer. Nothing follows each other and what is known turns into the unfamiliar, constant interplay between the visual and verbal, ideas that suggest freedom - a wonderful Surrealist’s game.

    The truncated poetic texts, far from being self-sufficient, require all the help that typography and spatial arrangement can provide to assert their meanings. Miro’s figures suggesting eroticism and voyeurism, constellations of transforming improvisations. Each page has its own style, unique composition, space - each page is an elaborate, independent work. Typography generally imposes an order, but here Les Penalites de l’enfer includes a wide variety of texts whose differences are considerably increased by typography. Each page has its own style, its unique composition, its particular conception of space. Each page transforms the text into a never-duplicated plastic work. Since repetitiousness in the text is reduced to a minimum and uniformity of printing has been avoided at all costs, each page asserts itself as an independent work of art. This situation appears highly paradoxical since stylization, order, and symmetry dominate the printed page and leave little room for improvisation. Typography, far from making the text available by means of a universal code, generally imposes an order entirely its own. Miro, by frequently introducing colored and linear signs that evoke writing and printing together with a multiplicity of gestures suggestions creative improvisation, also imposes an order of his own making. The typography clashes with the lithographs insofar as regular shapes, indispensable to printing, are avoided. Nonetheless, the typography is no less playfully subversive than the lithographs themselves; all kinds of lettering are introduced: calligraphy, gothic types, geometric forms, all conveying the diversity of the poetic language while functions in a referential semantic system. This range and variety somehow match the concatenation of pencil sketches, fingerprints, shiny oil painting, grattages, and collages of the lithographs, where all possible means are used to avoid homogeneity and repetition and to display difference.

    The book is presented in a linen box, a luxurious container enclosing hell. The letters, irregular but readable ink-shapes, dance freely on the page. As container and contained merge, thanks to the superposition of their identical designs, so image and text, writing and painting form a common web, capable of entrapping and even relating contradictory assertions of affinity and difference: the words within the text, the words as images, an all their pictorial counterparts. This Pandora’s box becomes a container of multiple expressions and manifestations in both art and literature. Within its boundaries messages countermand themselves: every letter assumes its own direction and releases its energy without truly submitting to the continuity of the line or any other recognizable order. Desnos’s “message” cannot fit into a linear system made up of words with fixed meanings or artificially pushed into a semblance of unity.

    Les Pénalitiés de L’Enfer ou Les Nouvelles-Hébrides exemplifies the struggle between a fixed and spontaneous creativity, the struggle for a liberation which has to be renewed time after time, for constraints and obstacles will always be with us. The book presented in a box, the lining of which shows letters, figures, colors so lively that they jump out at us, exemplifies the highly original conception of illustration that Miro, prompted by Desnos, so successfully elaborated.

    Renee Riese Hubert, Surrealism and the Book, 1988


Les Pénalitiés de L’Enfer ou Les Nouvelles-Hébrides (The Penalties of Hell or The New Hebrides) (M. 959-90, C. 188)

The complete deluxe set of 25 lithographs (20 in colors and 5 in black) along with the rare additional seven refusée lithographs in colors, on Arches, the full sheets, folded and loose (as issued), title page, text by Robert Desnos in French, typography by Michel Otthoffer, justification, including the suite of six lithographs in black and one in black and red, the set of 25 and the refusées contained in the original paper board folios with the first lithograph printed on the front, spine and back, the suite of six contained in a beige paper folder titled documents 1929, all contained in the original orange cloth-covered box with the artist's and author's name printed on the spine.
unfolded all S. 10 5/8 x 29 1/2 in. (27 x 74.9 cm)
Portfolio 11 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 3 in. (29.2 x 40 x 7.6 cm)

The seven refusées signed in pencil or white crayon, five annotated 'EA/50' and two annotated 'EA15' in pencil on the reverse, additionally signed in red crayon and printed 'Exemplaire de Rene LeMoigne' on the justification, from the edition of 15 (there were also 35 with five refusées and the book edition of 170), published by Maeght, Paris.

$40,000 - 60,000 

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220


Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 20 - 22 April 2021