ProvenancePierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Hakone Museum, Gora, Japan
Private Collection, Europe
Sale, Sotheby's New York, Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, 4 November 2014, lot 32
Private Collection, California
LiteratureWalter Erben, Joan Miró,Cologne, 1988, illustrated in color p. 215
Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paintings V. 1969-1975, Paris, 2003, no. 1599, illustrated in color p. 203
Boldly painted with a ferocity that belies the expectations we have of a man in his eightieth year, Oiseau, insecte, constellation affirms Miró’s deep-seated interest in the renewal of symbols that occupied him all his life. As a motif, a bird invariably expresses his lifelong concern for independence and freedom. ‘Constellation’, on the other hand is a bit more conflicted; it is as much a celebration of skyward nocturnal vastness and its accompanying themes of wonder, joy, nature as it is of ‘escape’, the theme that illuminates the deepest appreciation for his Constellation masterworks created during the most troubled period of his life between January 1940 and September 1941. Oiseau, insecte, constellation is not a painting that celebrates these themes with the childlike wonderment of the world for which Miró is most often known. But there is something deeply stirring here that aptly demonstrates what gallerist Pepe Pinya expressed when he said a Miró can be “a punch in the face to wake you up.”
Oiseau, insecte, constellation depends upon a finite number of pure marks and symbolic gestures pared down to create a very succinct, powerful impression. Miro’s profound influence on American Abstract Expressionism is well known, but the fine splatter, spray and drips here suggest Pollock, whose work epitomized Harold Rosenberg’s insistence that a canvas should not be an object, but rather “an area in which to act.” As for the preponderance of black as the bedrock of its deeply expressed impact, Franz Kline comes to mind. On the other hand, as much as Oiseau, insecte, constellation is bursting with energy, it is also restrained in ways that clearly point to a gestural approach characterized by his intrigue for what he called the ‘Japanese soul’. Indeed, he gained the appreciation during a trip to Japan in 1966 and later, when he worked to decorate a pavilion at the International Exposition in Osaka when he wielded large brushes loaded with paint as if he were a Japanese calligrapher with a samurai mindset. The experience left an indelible mark on his working method.
Oiseau, insecte, constellation is as much a stand-out painting as it is an outstanding one. In addition to its stark impact, there is a strength of purpose about it; one that deserves context of the sort we associate with the Constellation series produced during one of the most violent and chaotic times in history. Interpret and reconfigure the central motif — presumably intended as amalgamated bird and insect imagery — and it can take on the tenacious spirit of a pugilistic mantis, or perhaps, in a further leap of the imagination, a boxer. By deconstructing his process, or progression of creative actions, we assume Miró stopped in front of the canvas and with a few reflexive flicks of his brush left a burst of misted pigment. As a first act in creating the work, it suggests his emotional state and if so, let it be the pent-up emotion he felt, a four-decade long reflex to Franco, authoritarian rule, and the pall of anti-freedom he always hated. Franco was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s and sundry health issues when Mirò created Oiseau, insecte, constellation in Feburary, 1974.But if Oiseau, insecte, constellation has a political stake embedded in its symbolism, why stop here? The color black has long symbolized anarchism. But it also represents a mood of anger and outrage at all heinous crimes against humanity perpetrated in the name of allegiance to one state or another. Yet the most poignant evidence of this trail of interpretation is that Oiseau, insecte, constellation was created the same month as the series of three paintings entitled The Hope of a Condemned Man. All are products of a time of political decisions that shocked the painter, and which included the life of young anarchist Salvador Puig Antich sentenced to be executed by garotte. He was, on March 2, 1974. Not surprisingly, Miro was seen pacing up and down at the opening of an exhibition in 1978, shortly after Franco’s demise. When his wife Pilar told him to sit down, he refused. “Damn it, let them see me standing up,” he said. “I painted these paintings in a frenzy, with real violence so that people will know I’m alive, that I’m breathing, that I have a few more places to go.” He was 85. “I’m heading in new directions!” (Tim Adams, ‘Joan Miro: A Life in Paintings’, The Guardian, 19 March 2011)
Joan Miró Photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Joan Miró in his studio, after 1974. “Oiseau, Insecte, Constellation” leans against the wall. Photograph: Claude Prévost
Joan Miró, “L’étoile matinale (Morning Star)” (1940), Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona
Joan Miró, “The Hope of a Condemned Man” (1974), Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona
- Joan Miro’s importance in the development of Surrealism and 20th Century art is indisputable.
- The graph by Art Market Research shows that since 1976, paintings by Miro have increased at a 4.5% annual rate of return. Miro oil paintings are increasingly difficult to acquire as there is a strong international demand for his work.
- Miro’s Peinture (Étoile Bleue) from 1927 sold for over $37 million at auction in 2012, shattering the existing Miro record. The present work, Oiseau, Insecte, Constellation (1974) is currently available for a more accessible price. Miro’s works from the 1960s and ‘70s have incredible growth potential at their current price level.
- In 2021, one can acquire an important, monumentally scaled Miro oil on canvas for the same cost as a desirable Picasso drawing.
Top Results at Auction
Comparable Paintings Sold at Auction
- Comparable in quality, size, and year. Slightly more color than our piece, though Oiseau, Insecte, Constellation showcases Miro’s masterful use of negative space.
- Both works show Miro’s surrealistic interpretation of the bird, a favored subject of the artist.
- Since the 2009 sale of Femme, oiseau (1972), Miro’s market has increased considerably, including the world record-setting sale for a painting at auction in 2012 when Peinture (Étoile Bleue), sold for $37 million.
- Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit (1971) is the highest value 1970s work to sell at auction. It is larger than our painting, though a comparable period and subject.
- More extensive use of color, though both works showcase Miro’s mastery of oil painting in his mature period.
- As fewer paintings from the 1920s and ‘30s come up for sale, prudent collector’s, museum curators and galleries will look for other historically important periods in Miro’s career. The 1960s and ‘70s works have long been undervalued, a trend we are starting to see change as the limited supply of early paintings enter museum collections where they will likely remain.
- A minimalist composition, lacking the complex compositional elements found in Oiseau, Insecte, Constellation (1974).
- Comparable amount of color.
- Larger than our painting with similar focus on the effect of positive and negative space on a large canvas.