Soirée snob chez la Princesse was executed in 1944, at the time when Miró was rapidly gaining a widespread international acclaim. Populated with highly stylised and abstracted figures, it uses the vocabulary of signs developed a few years earlier in his celebrated Constellations series (figs. 1 & 2). Six Surrealist characters, attending a 'soirée', as indicated by the title, are surrounded by Miró's signature stars and zig-zag lines. The clarity and spontaneity of the composition herald the new post-war style that Miró would also incorporate into his oils of this period (fig. 3). Jacques Dupin discussed the compositional strengths of these oils from the 1940s, but his stylistic analysis equally applies to this particular work on paper: 'The space is taken up with big figures, birds, stars and signs. It is merely there to be occupied, and possesses no independent function of its own. These paintings are recognizable by the very colored discs, more often connected in pairs – linked by straight or broken lines. They remind us of the "dumbbell" shapes [...]. Most of the figures are drawn in uniformly arabesque areas of pure color set off certain details or parts – legs, arms, or bust, but more often certain elements chosen by this means take on the value of canvases are thus fertile in ambiguity' (J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 268).
The present work exemplifies the expressive power of images, even though they bear no faithful resemblance to the natural world. Miró is solely reliant upon the pictorial lexicon of signs and symbols that he had developed over the years. In fact, it was these compositions from the mid-1940s that would inspire the creative production of the Abstract Expressionist artists in New York. Miró populates this composition with several biomorphic stick figures, dressed in patches of primary colours. Floating against a sparkling background of pale green, these wide-eyed characters form a lively ensemble, derivative strictly from the boundless imagination of the artist. A few years after he executed this work, the artist offered creative advice to young painters, and his comments are an insight into the underlying motivations that inspired the present work: 'He who wants to really achieve something has to flee from things that are easy and pay no attention to [...] artistic bureaucracy, which is completely lacking in spiritual concerns. What is more absurd than killing yourself to copy a highlight on a bottle? If that was all painting was about, it wouldn't be worth the effort' (quoted in Margit Rowell, Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 226).
A technique of primary importance in this picture is Miró's expressive use of line. Overall, his remarkable visual vocabulary here strikes a perfect balance between abstraction and image-signs. There is always energy and movement in these pictures from the mid-1940s and never a sense of stasis. Moreover, each work is the result of active and ongoing improvisation that renders a precise interpretation impossible. But by the 1940s Miró heightened his audience's engagement with his art by giving his pictures poetic titles. The artist had experimented with incorporating poetry or lyrical text into his pictures in the late 1920s, but then largely rejected the use of highly descriptive titles over the following decade. His return to using language as a didactic tool was a major shift in his art in the 1940s, and in the present work, the fanciful title adds a narrative dimension to this lively composition.
As Margit Rowell commented: 'Miró's use of evocative poetic titles became more systematic in the late forties and early fifties... In the late twenties and throughout the thirties – those years immediately following his poem paintings – the artist shunned titles almost completely. The Constellations of 1940-41 marked the beginning of the use of long poetic titles as an accompaniment like words to music, perhaps inspired by the poetry the artist had been writing in the late 1930s or perhaps inspired by music itself. But otherwise, Miró's titles throughout the years remained relatively matter-of-fact: Paintings, Woman and Birds, and so on. In the late forties Miró showed a new interest in titles conceived as distinct poetic phrases. Again it would seem that Miró felt the need for a verbal accompaniment so that his motifs would be taken not a face value but as allusive poetic images' (ibid., p. 228).
Fig. 1, Joan Miró, Femme à la blonde aisselle coiffant sa chevelure à la lueur des étoiles, 1940, gouache and oil wash on paper, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
Fig. 2, Joan Miró, Chiffres et constellations amoureux d'une femme, 1941, gouache and ink on paper, The Art Institute of Chicago
Fig. 3, Joan Miró, Femme rêvant de l'évasion, 1945, oil on canvas, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona
Pastel and gouache on paper
31.4 by 51.4cm. 12 3/8 by 20 1/4 in.
Yvon Taillandier, Miró: Je travaille comme un jardinier, Paris, 1964, illustrated in colour pp. 18-19
Louis Clayeaux, Paris (a gift from the artist in March 1949)
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner