Joan Miró born 1893 [ - 1983]
Inscribed 'Joan Miró | 1927' on back of canvas
Water-soluble background and motifs in oil, on canvas, 38 1/4 x 51 1/4 (97 x 130)
Purchased from the Galerie Beyeler (Grant-in-Aid) with the aid of the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1971
Prov: With Galerie Pierre, Paris (purchased from the artist); Tristan Tzara, Paris; Christophe Tzara, Sceaux; sold by him at Sotheby's, London, 30 April 1969, lot 101, repr. in colour; bt. Galerie Beyeler, Basle
Exh: Joan Miró, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, June-November 1962 (48) as 'Peinture'; Moon and Space, Galerie Beyeler, Basle, January-February 1970 (54, repr. in colour) as 'Fantaisie bleue'
Lit: Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work (London 1962), No.219, p.518 repr.; exh. catalogue Joan Miró: Magnetic Fields, Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 1972-January 1973
Repr: Jacques Lassaigne, Miró (Lausanne 1963), p.51 in colour; Simon Wilson, Surrealist Painting (London 1975), pl.43 in colour
There is a label on the back with the title 'Fantaisie bleue', but Miró wrote to the compiler in March 1973 that this work has no title and should be known simply as 'Peinture'.
Many of Miró's paintings of the period 1924 to 1927 have broad fields of colour animated by enigmatic signs, and sometimes even by words. Margit Rowell has shown in the catalogue of the Guggenheim Museum's Miró exhibition that his work of this period was strongly influenced by poetry. Miró is known to have steeped himself in poetry in the 1920s, and through his friendship with Masson met practically all the leading French poets of the time. Though he has always been reluctant to discuss and identify the imagery in these pictures, Margit Rowell has discovered a number of instances in which his paintings of the period can be related to works by Rimbaud, Jarry, Apollinaire, Saint-Pol-Roux, Desnos and others, including some in which there is such a close correspondence to the poetic images in a specific poem as to give the impression that he was illustrating that poem.
In this case one possible source may have been Apollinaire's play Les Mamelles de Tirésias, first performed in June 1917, which Apollinaire termed a 'drame surréaliste' - the first use of the word 'surrealist'. At the beginning of the play, the wife Thérèse announces that she is tired of being a woman and doesn't want to have babies; she wants to be a soldier, a doctor, a minister in the government, a philosopher, a chemist and so on. Then she says that she is beginning to undergo physical changes: 'My beard is growing, my bosom is coming away' (... la barbe me pousse | Ma poitrine se détache). She utters a loud cry and half opens her blouse from which her breasts come out in the form of children's balloons, one red, the other blue; as she releases them, they float upwards but remain attached to her by strings. She pulls on the strings and makes the balloons dance, then bursts them. Next she takes balls out of her corsage and throws them at the audience, then strokes her beard and her moustache, which is also beginning to grow, saying 'I am like a field of corn ready for a mechanical reaper' (J'ai l'air d'un champ de blé qui attend la moissonneuse mécanique). After announcing that she wants to be known henceforth by the masculine name Tirésias, she makes her husband put on her clothes. He becomes a man-woman and says that he will solve the need for repopulation by producing babies on his own.
By the beginning of the second act he has managed to produce no fewer than 40,049 babies in a single day and there are numerous cradles on the stage, with the sound of babies crying. Eventually his wife re-emerges from disguise and greets her husband affectionately again. He says 'You can't go on being as flat as a bug' (... il ne faut plus | Que tu sois plate comme une punaise), and hands her a bunch of balloons and a basket of balls. She releases the balloons and throws the balls at the audience, and the play ends with her saying 'Fly away birds of my feebleness, go and feed all the children of the repopulation' (Envolez-vous oiseaux de ma faiblesse | Allez nourrir tous les enfants | De la repopulation).
On the right of the picture is a breast with what seems to be a balloon beside it. Just below the nipple is a brown patch which could have been suggested by the beard and is shaped like a sheaf of corn. Above the balloon is a black dot with lines streaming from it which is possibly either a ball in flight or a balloon rising or bursting. At the top of the picture hovers what seems to be a breast-balloon.
On the other hand the white shape on the left was identified by Miró in December 1977 as a horse (information from Sir Roland Penrose), and the picture is therefore probably also related to the series of paintings of circus themes dated 1927 which is known as the Circus Horse. A combination of different themes like this would be quite in accord with his practice.
The background appears to have been painted with the kind of water-soluble blue paint that is frequently used on the outsides of houses in Spain and Portugal. It was also used in other paintings of the same year, such as 'Personage; The Brothers Fratellini' in the Lydia and Harry Lewis Winston collection (Dr and Mrs Barnett Malbin, New York).
(The compiler owes the suggestion that this picture was influenced by Les Mamelles de Tirésias
to Margit Rowell).
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.524-5, reproduced p.524