When Miró painted this canvas in 1946, he was at the height of his international celebrity. The previous year, the New York dealer Pierre Matisse had exhibited the artist's famous wartime series of Constellations to enormous praise (see fig. 2). The demand for Miró's work in the United States had become so great that in August 1946 Matisse offered to purchase the artist's entire production of 1942-46 and to finance him for the next two years. Better yet, Miró was invited to the United States to create what would be his first public commission - a mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati.
What the public, his dealer and his critics recognized in Miró's paintings from this era was a certain zeal and optimism that was in sharp contrast to the somber mood of post-war Europe. Miró was in fact responding to that very mood, and he expressed his determination to persevere in his art.
"I am entirely committed to risking it all," Miró had written to Matisse in June 1945 (see fig. 4). "Either I find a way to live like men of my age (fifty-two years) from the preceding generation - Picasso, Matisse, Braque - or I find a way to settle my debts ... [and go] to live in Montroig, where I will continue to work with the same passion and enthusiasm as always - which constitutes a need for me and my reason for living .... Excuse me for speaking to you in this tone, but life has been too hard for me these past years for me to do otherwise. I have to plan my future in a clear and courageous way, one that is worthy of my age" (quoted in Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 337).
Femmes dans la nuit is one of the compositions which Pierre Matisse and the public found so refreshing in the aftermath of these hard times. This gem of a picture is populated by Miró's Surrealist characters who are recognized easily for who they are - women beneath the night sky. Miró gave up his practice of assigning poetic or elusive titles to his pictures as he had done in the 1930s, and now he favored more straight-forward classifications for his work. Women, birds, stars and moons dominated these pictures (see fig. 1), but the artist did not compromise his imaginative impulses when rendering these forms. In fact, it was these compositions from the the mid-1940s that would inspire the creative production of the Abstract Expressionist artist Arshile Gorky in New York (see fig. 3). After his trip to America in 1947, Miró himself would respond to the style of the Abstract Expressionists and begin a series of large-formatted paintings. The modest size of the present canvas, however, was typical for Miró's work from the wartime era, when art supplies were limited. During these years he made a virtue of these small-formatted, intensely colorful canvases, with their jewel-like splendor and precision.
Jacques Dupin offered the following comments concerning the artist's production from 1946: "Although the handwriting will tend to become freer and invention more flexible, nonetheless his works of 1946 follow the lines established in the paintings of the two preceding years... we find the confirmation and the continuing development of an art which becomes progressively less capricious, less anxious, and more self-assured. All the paintings of this years are characterized by the abandonment of the purely rhythmic elements and signs that abound in 1945. The artist concentrates on his figures and animals, now making them more and more unlike each other, even odder and more humours in character ... (a) renewed passion for artistic materials produces grounds of great richness and animation, such as we did not find in the large canvas of 1945." (Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró: His Life and Work, New York, 1962, ).
Oil and mixed media on canvas
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Miró in America (exhibition catalogue), 1982, no. 25, illustrated in color in the catalogue
13 3/4 by 10 5/8 in. 35 by 27 cm
Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1961, no. 687, illustrated pp. 399 & 552
Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1993, no. 287, illustrated in color p. 263
Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró. Catalogue raisonné. Paintings, vol. III, Paris, 2001, no. 786, illustrated in color p. 100
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Private Collection, United States
Jeffrey H. Loria, New York (in 1982)