Joan Miró

Joan Miró
Paysage (Paysage au coq), 1927
Peinture (Personnages: Les frères Fratellini), 1927
Peinture, 1930
Composition (Petit univers), 1933
Danseuse espagnole, 1945
L’étreinte du soleil à l’amoureuse, 1952
Oiseau lunaire, 1966
Paysage (Paysage au coq), 1927
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Joan Miró
Paysage (Paysage au coq), 1927

Landscape (Landscape with Rooster)
Oil on canvas, 131 x 196.5 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

A ladder, tapering at the top in perspective fashion, guides our gaze into the depths of the picture. Assisted by a crowing cockerel, whose colours and inscribed letter E probably make reference to pre-Republican Spain, it links a desert-like ground zone with a hot sky, across which a cloud sails in visionary fashion. The landscape portrayed here is related to that of Miró’s enduring memory, Montroig, where his parents had a farm. In climbing the ladder’s rungs, which at the same time seem to move away like receding horizons, we are drawn into the depths of childhood memory – a Surrealist theme that had also interested Sigmund Freud.

Peinture (Personnages: Les frères Fratellini), 1927
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Joan Miró
Peinture (Personnages: Les frères Fratellini), 1927

Painting: The Fratellini Brothers
Oil on canvas, 130 x 97.5 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

Joan Miró and Alexander Calder first met in 1928 and formed a lifelong friendship whose artistic fruits were celebrated in an exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in 2004. Both artists loved the world of the circus and were great admirers of the famous Fratellini brothers, a trio of Italian clowns who were the talk of Paris at that time. Even if it was not Miró himself who added the subtitle linking the work with the Fratellini, the present picture nevertheless testifies to the artist’s interest in the world of clowns. Against a background painted as if in a trance with luminous blue, Miró allows a patch of white to play a plinth or a torso, conjures a neck out of a line, and with the aid of an imposing nose, an astonished colour eye and a few jaunty lines invents a comic head that is pure painting. Far from all Surrealist dogmatism, the subject here is effortless balance – and a confident and correspondingly visionary handling of the world of dreams and imagination as the new major power in art.

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Peinture, 1930
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Joan Miró
Peinture, 1930

Painting
Oil, charcoal, and plaster on canvas, 231 x 150.5 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

This is no ‘typical’ Miró: there is little to be seen here of luminous colour planes, silently floating flowerings of form or the cheerful enchantment that infuses so many of the Catalan artist’s works. We are looking at the scribbled doodle of an intimate dream, audaciously magnified on a monumental scale and unparalleled in intensity. In the first instance, Miró presents us with a narrative: on the left we see a woman, her expression still marked by a grating of fear but her head already overlapping in purple with that of her suitor, who is approaching enthusiastically from the right. At another level, however, Miró wants to demonstrate the dazzling modern capabilities of line wielded as a paintbrush. The man and woman are both drawn, while the bird with blue in its body, pecking at the painted red which is swallowing up some yellow, resembles an etching; above the woman, flat paint makes way for plaster, adding spatial depth. Thus, as the free-flowing line lower right also demonstrates, the artistic means are allowed to speak for themselves – Miró, in the manner of a seismograph, is simply taking dictation.

Composition (Petit univers), 1933
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Joan Miró
Composition (Petit univers), 1933

Composition (Small Universe)
Gouache on cardboard, 39.5 x 31.5 cm
Photo: Cantz Medienmanagement, Ostfildern

How much space is required for a piece of colourful mythology that animates the here and now? In the case of Joan Miró, not much. Executed in luminous gouache and paying tribute to the pre-Surrealist mythographer of water sprites, Arnold Böcklin, Composition (Petit universe) presents a slender mermaid, a fish leaping high in the air, a seal and a sprinkling of stars, who have come together to perform an aquatic fandango between sea and sky. This is taking place not somewhere along the grey timeline measured by our clocks, but in the golden river of myth to which artists such as the great Catalan seem to have had particular access. The subtitle Petit univers (Small Universe) aptly describes this diminutive masterpiece, which manages to be small – and yet nevertheless contain an entire world.

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Danseuse espagnole, 1945
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Joan Miró
Danseuse espagnole, 1945

Spanish Dancer
Oil on canvas, 146.5 x 114.5 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

This picture belongs to a series of three paintings with Spanish themes Miró produced in 1945. The works draw their vitality from the contrast between the stark grey of the background and the exquisite equilibrium of the lines and colour planes. These latter recall Miró’s Constellations of 1941 and in formal terms already herald the huge Cincinnati wall painting of 1947. A probable reference to the mural can be seen in the background of the present picture, where Miró has attempted to imitate a wall as his pictorial ground. After painting the grey background, Miró deliberately maltreated the canvas by folding it up into a small square, leaving crease lines that are still visible today. Over the resulting illusion of a ‘plastered wall’, he applied the delicately floating forms of his Spanish dancer, whose glowing ecstasy vents itself in a constellation of restless grace.

L’étreinte du soleil à l’amoureuse, 1952
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Joan Miró
L’étreinte du soleil à l’amoureuse, 1952

The Sun Embracing the Lover
Oil on canvas, 22 x 16 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Even smaller than Composition (Petit univers) is the solar system in another painting by Miró, in terms of date the latest of his works in the Fondation’s holdings and at the same time the very smallest piece of art in the entire collection. What does the picture show? While a two-phase moon – which is echoed by various dark areas in the picture – looks down on the scene from above, the sun, which is climbing up over the horizon like a beetle on the left, begins ‘embracing the lover’ as evoked in the title. Looking not unlike a modern Venus of Willendorf, the bizarrely charming amoureuse occupies the right-hand half of the tiny composition, which all in all presents itself as a magical, miniature parcel of colour, form and intervening space brimming with mysterious life.

Oiseau lunaire, 1966
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Joan Miró
Oiseau lunaire, 1966

Moon Bird
Bronze, cast 5/5, Susse Frères Paris, 234 x 210 x 150 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

In amongst his succession of floating, filigree pictorial worlds, which began with the Constellations of the war years and culminated in the vast Cincinnati mural, in 1944 Joan Miró also produced two clay sculptures, each less than 20 cm tall but powerfully robust, which he baptized Oiseau solaire (Solar bird) and Oiseau lunaire (Lunar bird). They were cast in bronze, later in larger dimensions as well. In 1966 Miró then produced a giant version of Oiseau lunaire, of which five copies were cast. One of these is today housed in the Fondation Beyeler. Whereas the little original cut the figure of an enchantingly pompous half-pint, the large version fills an entire room on its own. The lines shaping this colossus of a crowing cockerel nevertheless flow with the same animated lightness so characteristic of Miró’s paintings and dispel all sense of heaviness from the darkly cheerful giant.

Joan Miró

1893, Montroig – 1983 Palma de Mallorca

Having studied painting in Barcelona, the Spanish painter, printmaker and sculptor came to Paris in 1919. While Miró’s early work shows the influence of Cubism, from 1924 onwards he developed a predominantly abstract style, characterized by symbols and figurative signs, which drew him into the circle of the Surrealists for a time. Miró’s imaginative paintings and graphic works created microcosmic worlds of fantasy and often have a humoristic, even absurd dimension. Besides paintings, Miró also produced sculptures, ceramics, prints and outsized theatre puppets.

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