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Basel, Kunsthalle, Phantastiche Kunst des XX. Jahrhunderts , 1952, no. 139
Milan, Galleria d'Arte del Naviglio, Miró , 1963
Madrid, Galeria Theo, no. 27
Paris, Galerie Tarica, 1976
Zürich, Kunsthaus; Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle, Joan Miró , 1986, no. 55
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Joan Miró: A Retrospective , 1986-87, no. 47
Peinture (Le Cheval de cirque) is from a series of supremely abstracted depictions of a circus horse that MirÃ³ painted at the height of his involvement with the Surrealists. The picture dates from 1927, when MirÃ³ (see fig. 1) was living in Montmartre and working alongside the artists Max Ernst, RenÃ© Magritte, Jean Arp and the poet Paul Eluard. MirÃ³ had joined the Surrealist group in 1924 and participated in their first exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in 1925. The credo of these painters, which AndrÃ© Breton first expressed in his Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, was rooted in a belief Â?in the future resolution of the two states seemingly so contradictory, which are dream and reality, into a kind of absolute reality, a surrealityÂ? (AndrÃ© Breton, Manifestos of Surrealism, Ann Arbor, 1972). This new ideology encouraged MirÃ³ to eliminate representation from his canvases, and, as he would later declare: Â?The discovery of Surrealism coincided for me with a crisis in my own painting and the decisive turning that Â? caused me to abandon realism for the imaginary. I spent a great deal of time with poets, because I thought you had to go beyond the plastic thing to reach poetry. Surrealism freed the unconscious, exalted desire, endowed art with additional powersÂ? I painted as if in a dream, with the most total freedom" (quoted in Joan MirÃ³ (exhibition catalogue), FundaciÃ³ Joan MirÃ³, Barcelona, 1993, pp. 180 and 194).
The present canvas is composed of a meandering black line and an impastoed area of red, green, black and white set against a highly saturated field of blue. MirÃ³ experimented in using whimsical and ambiguous forms that first appear abstract only to gradually take from in shifting and delightful ways. As Isabella Monod-Fontaine writes of MirÃ³Â?s 1927 works, Â?Gone are the monochrome spaces left almost untouched, the floating, washed-out pigments; now the colours cover over, they are saturated, violent, almost shrill, working together (or clashing) along the horizon that gives shape to each of these strange, fascinating compositions. Each split ground establishes a different climate of colour, apparently supporting the various scenes that are played out of their unusual stages. These coloured grounds play exactly the same kind of role as the animal characters. They act and declaim, shout or whisper in the backgroundÂ? (Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, Joan MirÃ³, 1917-1934, La Naissance du Monde (exhibition catalogue), Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2004, p. 73).
The entire series of Le Cheval de cirque (see figs. 2, 3) has come to represent the best of MirÃ³'s Surrealist endeavor. The present work in particular was one of the best-known of these pictures, and was featured in several major retrospectives of the artist's work. Underscoring the importance of this theme in the artist's oeuvre, Jacques Dupin has written the following about Le Cheval de cirque: Â?To analyze all of MirÃ³Â?s variations on the theme of the circus horse would be an endless task. Only the fiction of a fixed center was necessary for the artist in order to achieve the greatest possible freedom in the unleashing of his imaginary line. His display of sovereign freedom in these works is the opposite of mere gratuitous Â?play.Â? It obeys laws and a logic that, though unformulated and inexplicit, are all the more imperiousÂ? (Jacques Dupin, MirÃ³, Paris, 1993, p. 129).
Fig. 1, Photograph of the artist taken on June 13, 1935 by Carl Van Vechten. Palma de Mallorca, SuccessiÃ³ MirÃ³
Fig. 2, Joan MirÃ³, Painting (The Circus Horse - The Lasso), oil on canvas, 1927, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge
Fig. 3, Joan MirÃ³, Painting (The Circus Horse), oil on canvas, 1927, MusÃ©e dÂ?Ixelles, Brussels