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Le fermier et son épouse

About the item

Executed in 1936, Le fermier et son épouse is a powerful composition from one of the most turbulent periods of Miró's career. It was during this time that he was attaining a wide-spread international recognition, with his works featuring in now legendary Surrealist exhibitions including the International Surrealist Exhibition in London and Fantastic Art, Dada & Surrealism at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, both held in 1936. Painted in the lead-up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in the summer of that year, the intense, brilliant colours of the present work and the exaggerated biomorphic forms are highly characteristic of Miró's paintings executed during this turbulent time. Charged with extraordinary emotional and creative power, it is populated with striking figures set against a blazing landscape, painted in blocks of bold primary colours. \nWriting about Miró's works from 1935-36, Jacques Dupin has commented: ‘The serene works of the years devoted to concentration on plastic concerns and to spiritual control of figures and signs now gave way to a new outburst of subjectivism, to an expressionistic unleashing of instinctual forces. The volcano which for some years now had been quiescent suddenly erupted’ (J. Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work, London, 1962, p. 262). For all their explosive power, these works are executed with great care and precision, the fantastical creatures rendered with great attention to detail and control. Miró conveys the intensity and fear that pervaded Europe at this time, but never allows his art to be overwhelmed by it – he remains sure-handed and the master of his imagery.\n\nThe present work depicts a Catalan farmer and his wife, surrounded by farm animals in the landscape of Montroig. Miró's love of the countryside dates back to at least 1911 when his father purchased the farmhouse at Montroig that was to play such an important role in his subsequent life and work. His early masterpiece La ferme from 1921-22 (fig. 1) provided a panoramic view of much of the imagery that continued to fascinate him throughout his career. Summarising the significance of this work in 1928, Miró remarked: ‘I came back here again after that exhibit [at La Licorne in Paris] and again Montroig reached out to me with all its light, all its life, and I wanted to capture that whole period that I could see from Montroig and I painted The Farm. Nine months of constant hard work! Nine months of painting every day and wiping it out and making studies and destroying them all. The Farm was a résumé of my entire life in the country. I wanted to put everything I loved about the country into that canvas - from a huge tree to a tiny little snail. I don't think it makes sense to give more importance to a mountain than an ant (but landscape artists just can't see that), and that's why I didn't hesitate to spend hours and hours making the ant come alive’ (quoted in Francesc Trabal, ‘A Conversation with Joan Miró’, in La Publicitat, 14th July 1928, reprinted in Margit Rowell (ed.), Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 93).\n\nLa ferme is imbued with a sense of magic realism achieved through a flattening of planes, and the simplification and reduction of forms to symbols which are precisely delineated and illuminated by an ethereal light. These conceptual and stylistic innovations progress towards a greater sense of fantasy and abstraction in La terre labourée (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; fig. 2) and Paysage catalan (Le chasseur) (The Museum of Modern Art, New York), both from 1923-24, to their most distilled form in the present composition, Le fermier et son épouse. In this remarkable work, the artist abandons half-tones and earthy hues in favour of a searing palette of primary colours: spectacularly bright reds and yellow play against cool blues and severe contrasts of blacks. Certain aspects of the bodies are composed of  inflated limbs that convey an insistent sense of corporeality and mass, while other parts of the body, particularly in the male figure, become a transparent framework of coloured lines, suspended against the blinding-yellow sky like a multi-coloured mobile. In the foreground is the image of the rooster, a symbol of strength and aggression standing by and perhaps protecting the egg that appears on the verge of hatching. A few years later in Varengeville-sur-Mer, the artist would make the Rooster the sole subject of a related composition in gouache (fig. 3).\n\nIn theme and style, Le fermier et son épouse is closely related to the series of oil paintings on copper as well as to a group of works in tempera on masonite, executed between October 1935 and May 1936 at Montroig and Barcelona, all of them in small format (fig. 4). In the present work, however, the artist transforms their strident imagery and frequently acid colouring through the use of a different medium, gouache on board. Carolyn Lanchner has pointed out how, throughout his career, ‘Miró sometimes set himself the task of addressing one problem of expression in the material terms previously used to address another. Instances of these non-parallel parallelisms can be found in such series as the Ingres-paper oils of 1930-31, as contrasted with the Constellations of 1940-41; within the group of thirteen cardboards of 1935; and in the differences and similarities between the 1935 cardboard sequence and the masonite series of 1936’ (C. Lanchner, Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 65). Within the latter group, the slick surfaces and heightened colour of the works executed in oil on copper contrast dramatically with the dry, matt surface of the temperas.\n\nIn the oils and temperas of the late 1930s, references to the increasing instability of the world political situation are oblique but nonetheless present. Miró's painting and art at this time reached a pitch of intensity and clarity that was only matched by the great series that followed, The Constellations. While the context under which these great works were painted is long gone, their power remains undiminished.\n\nThe first known owner of the present work was the German-American art expert Ludwig Charell, who also owned a major collection of works by Toulouse-Lautrec. For many decades Le fermier et son épouse was in the collection of the great American film director Billy Wilder (1906-2002). Wilder put together one of the largest and most impressive art collections in Hollywood, which included works ranging from Impressionist paintings to Picasso and Calder, as well as Japanese and Chinese objects. The present work was not seen in public until 1989, when Billy Wilder’s collection was sold at auction in New York.\nSigned Miró and dated 36 (lower left); inscribed je reconnais cette gouache comme authentique, Miró 2/VII/49. D'accord Miró 10/IX/73 on the reverse


Gouache on card


Joan Miró


Executed on thin card hinged to an over-mount at the top and bottom. There are three repaired tears at the edges of the sheet, one of which is visible beneath the farmer’s right leg. The upper left and lower left and right corners have been repaired, not visible when mounted. There is some craquelure, mainly to the torso and leg of the farmer’s wife with some very minor associated losses. Apart from some areas of retouching in the yellow and a small area of retouching associated to the aforementioned repaired tear, visible under ultra-violet light. This work is in good overall condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although they are stronger and more vibrant in the original. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."


58 by 42.5cm.


Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Joan Miró. Rétrospective de l'œuvre peint, 1990, no. 100, illustrated in colour in the catalogue Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Joan Miró, 1997, no. 32, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


P. Vilada, 'A Life in Pictures', in House & Garden, New York, April 1989, illustrated p. 156 Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró. Catalogue raisonné. Drawings, Paris, 2008, vol. I, no. 559, illustrated in colour p. 272


Ludwig Charell, New York (acquired in 1940) Knoedler & Co., New York Billy Wilder, Los Angeles (acquired from the above. Sold: Christie's, New York, The Billy Wilder Collection, 13th November 1989, lot 53) Private Collection, New York (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 7th November 2007, lot 24) Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Signed Miró and dated 36 (lower left); inscribed je reconnais cette gouache comme authentique, Miró 2/VII/49. D'accord Miró 10/IX/73 on the reverse


Executed in 1936.


Property from a Distinguished American Collection


1893 - 1983

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.