PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTION
L'OISEAU AU PLUMAGE DÉPLOYÉ VOLE VERS L'ARBRE ARGENTÉ
89 by 116cm.
35 by 45 5/8 in.
Painted in 1953.
signed Miró (lower centre); signed Miró, titled and dated 1953 on the reverse
oil on canvas
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist)
Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr., New York (acquired from the above in 1953)
The Estate of Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr., New York (sale: Sotheby's, New York, 15th November 1989, lot 6)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Miró. Recent Paintings, 1953, no. 21, illustrated in the catalogue (incorrectly captioned as no. 22)
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Miró. 'Peintures sauvages' 1934 to 1953, 1958, no. 19, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Joan Miró, 1993-94, no. 195, ilustrated in colour in the catalogue
Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1961, no. 817, p. 546
Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró. Life and Work, London, 1962, no. 817, illustrated p. 562
Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings 1942-1955, Paris, 2001, vol. III, no. 920, illustrated in colour p. 194
Miró's luminous L'Oiseau au plumage déployé vole vers l'arbre argenté is a work of exceptional creative achievement. Painted at the dawning of a new era in modern art, it is one of the artist's finest canvases from his post-war production. Executed in 1953 and exhibited at Pierre Matisse's gallery in New York later that year, it combines Miró's love of signs and symbols with a thematic narrative that is at once passionate, playful and intensely creative. Its title expresses the whimsy and flight of fancy that characterised Miró's best paintings, but the picture itself also presents a mix of poetic lyricism, radical abstraction, and semiotic complexity that was groundbreaking among the avant-garde during this period.
In Miró's most successful work, his remarkable visual vocabulary strikes a perfect balance between abstraction and image-signs. There is always energy and movement in these pictures and never a sense of stasis. Moreover, each work is the result of active and ongoing improvisation that renders a precise interpretation impossible. But by the 1950s Miró heightened his audience's engagement with his art by giving his canvases poetic titles. The artist had experimented with incorporating poetry, or lyrical text, into his pictures in the late 1920s, but then largely rejected the use of highly descriptive titles over the next two decades. His return to using language as a didactic tool was a major shift in his art in the 1940s, allowing him to create compositions that were much more engaging for his audience. As Margit Rowell wrote: 'Miró's use of evocative poetic titles became more systematic in the late forties and early fifties [...] In the late twenties and throughout the thirties -- those years immediately following his poem paintings -- the artist shunned titles almost completely. The Constellations of 1940-41 marked the beginning of the use of long poetic titles as an accompaniment like words to music, perhaps inspired by the poetry the artist had been writing in the late 1930s or perhaps inspired by music itself. But otherwise, Miró's titles throughout the years remained relatively matter-of-fact: Paintings, Woman and Birds, and so on. In the late forties Miró showed a new interest in titles conceived as distinct poetic phrases. Again it would seem that Miró felt the need for a verbal accompaniment so that his motifs would be taken not at face value but as allusive poetic images' (M. Rowell, Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 228).
In the case of the present work, the title of the painting clarifies the action it depicts, adding a narrative that would be otherwise indecipherable based on the images alone. Other works painted around this time bear similarly elucidating titles. Descriptions such as The Bird with a calm look, its wings in flames or The Bird Boom-Boom makes his appeal to the head onion peel entice the viewer to consider each element of the composition more closely. These lyrical titles assign identities to otherwise unrelated images, creating a new visual vocabulary of signs and symbols from which the viewer is left to piece together the events of the scene. As Jacques Dupin pointed out about the present work: 'In Bird with Plumage Spread Flies Toward the Silvery Tree, the precise elements are not figurative any longer, but pure signs, checkerboard squares, rectangles, dots and disks. An extremely flexible line, however, keeps them far removed from the purely geometric' (J. Dupin, op. cit., 1961, p. 433).
When Miró painted this work in 1953, he had already become acquainted with the new techniques and aesthetic agenda of the Abstract Expressionists. He first saw their work in New York in 1947, and the experience, the artist would later recall, was like 'a blow to the solar plexus.' Several young painters, including Jackson Pollock, were crediting Miró as their inspiration for their wild, paint-splattered canvases. Miró was both flattered and a bit awed by the acknowledgement, not knowing immediately what to think of it. But in the years that followed he created works that responded to the enthusiasm of this younger generation of American painters and the spontaneity of their art. The paintings he created at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s are a fascinating response to these new trends of abstraction, but also they show Miró's allegiance to his own artistic pursuits. 'For me a form is never something abstract,' he said at the end of the 1940s, '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' (M. Rowell, op. cit., p. 207).
The present work exemplifies the expressive power of images, even though the images in the picture bear no resemblance to the natural world. Miró is solely reliant upon the lexicon of signs and symbols that he had developed over the years. As Jacques Dupin wrote with regard to the works of 1952-54: 'To study the form, their distribution and their composition, to elucidate the rhythms and the distribution of the colors, gets us nowhere. Precisely because the artist has not "elaborated," but has let us come face to face with the pure creative act itself, our instruments of investigation are useless. And yet the brutal forms thus projected are neither arbitrary nor are they mere products of some automatism. They are always related to Miró's vocabulary of signs and other elements of his language, but they are spontaneous; they are not "worked up" emanations of this language, but a deliberate simplification of it. Hence their expressive power is all the greater; their energy has been caught at the source and let go at once, the sign being the condensed vehicle of subterranean energy that otherwise would be dispersed and lost' (J. Dupin, Miró, Barcelona & New York, 1993, p. 294).
In a dialogue between Miró and Rafael Santos Torroella in March 1951, the artist offered advice to young painters, and his works are an insight into the point of view and underlying motivations that inspired the present work: 'He who wants to really achieve something has to flee from things that are easy and pay no attention to... artistic bureaucracy, which is completely lacking in spiritual concerns. What is more absurd than killing yourself to copy a highlight on a bottle? If that was all painting was about, it wouldn't be worth the effort.' In response, Torroella asked, 'What about abstract art then,' to which Miró replied, 'No. That is not the way to spiritual freedom. You don't gain even a centimeter of freedom from art that's governed by cold formulas. You only get your freedom by sweating for it, by an inner struggle' (quoted in M. Rowell, op. cit., p. 226).