Miró's intensely colourful and pictorially commanding Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit exemplifies the artist's bold and unstoppable creative spirit during the final years of Franco's despotic regime. This impressive canvas, measuring nearly two meters across, belongs to a series of monumental compositions that occupied Miró during one of the most heated periods in post-war Spanish history. When he painted it in the spring of 1971, Miró was one of nation's most renowned cultural figures and an irrepressible champion of progressive civic causes. Art and power, he believed, were deeply interrelated, and his paintings, including this impressive composition, were a vehicle for expressions of social resilience and creative brio.
'When an artist speaks in an environment in which freedom is difficult,' Miró explained, 'he must turn each of his works into a negation of the negations, in an untying of all oppressions, all prejudices, and all the false values' (quoted in Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London; Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona & National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2011-12, p. 15). During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Miró undertook a series of monumental compositions (figs. 1 & 2) that were intentionally transgressive and confrontational in their defiance of spatial limitations. The impressive Femme a la voix de rossignol dans la nuit, with a broad swath of red pigment draped down the centre of the composition like a matador's provocative cape, is one of Miró's bravest artistic statements of the era.
Miró's approach to this monumental canvas calls to mind the aesthetic developments taking hold of avant-garde painters in America at the time. The block-colouration and radical simplification of form shown here relate to what Clement Greenberg termed 'post-painterly abstraction', best characterised by the colour-field painting of Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Morris Louis and Clifford Still in the 1960s and 1970s. This new style was the evolutionary by-product of Abstract Expressionism, a movement which had an impact on Miró's painting following his trip to New York in 1947. It was during that time when Miró became acquainted with the art of this new breed of painters, some of whom were working under the sponsorship of his own dealer Pierre Matisse. Miró was fascinated by their novel techniques and aesthetic agenda, and recognised that the sprawling, paint-splattered compositions of these young painters were clearly indebted to his own art. Deeply flattered to have inspired this creative revolution overseas, Miró internalised the enthusiasm of his artistic progenies and thereafter incorporated a newfound excitement into his own compositions.
The influence of Abstract Expressionism compelled Miró to begin painting on a large scale, requiring the construction of a massive studio in Palma by the Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert. The paintings he created from the early 1950s onwards are a fascinating response to these new trends of abstraction, while at the same time showing Miró's allegiance to his own artistic pursuits. By the late 1960s, Miró had become well-versed in the art of rendering his aesthetic ideas on a large-scale format. In 1969, he completed a temporary, expansive mural for the exhibition Miró Otro on the facade of the Collegi d'Arquitectes in Barcelona, and another for the the Gas Pavilion at the Japan World Exhibition in Osaka in 1969-70. The expansive horizontality and powerful formal rendering of Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit and Peinture (fig. 2), another canvas of the same scale, derive their impressive stature from these public compositions.
The works that Miró completed during his mature period demonstrate a level of expressive freedom, exuberance and confidence in his craft. Images of women, stars, birds and moons were omnipresent in his pictures to the point that these elements became symbols for the artist's own identity. While it is tempting to try and identify each titular element in Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit, the composition as a whole is an evocation of Miró's own heraldic voice in the night. Jacques Dupin elaborated on the semiotic importance of figuration in these late paintings: 'The sign itself was no longer the image's double, it was rather reality assimilated then spat out by the painter, a reality he had incorporated then liberated, like air or light. The importance of the theme now depended on its manner of appearing or disappearing, and the few figures Miró still endlessly named and inscribed in his works are the natural go-between and guarantor of the reality of his universe. It would perhaps be more fruitful to give an account of those figures that have disappeared than of the survivors' (ibid., pp. 339-340).
Fig. 1, Joan Miró, Paysage animé, 1970, acrylic and oil on canvas, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona
Fig. 2, Joan Miró, Peinture, 1972, oil on canvas, Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago de Chile
Oil on canvas
130 by 195cm.
51 1/8 by 76 3/4 in.
Painted on 18th April 1971.
Paris, Grand Palais, Joan Miró, 1974, no. 110, illustrated in the catalogue
Wichita, Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Joan Miró. Paintings and Graphics, 1978
Yokohama, Museum of Art, Joan Miró. Centennial Exhibition: The Pierre Matisse Collection, 1992, no. 105, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Barcelona, Fondació Joan Miró, Joan Miró 1956-1983. Sentiment, emoció, gest, 2006, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
130 by 195cm. 51 1/8 by 76 3/4 in.
Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró. Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings, Paris, 2003, vol. V, no. 1405, illustrated in colour p. 63
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Acquired by the present owner in 2002