Renè Magritte, Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit (The hunters at the edge of night), 1928. Estimate: £6-9 million © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
LONDON.- A key date on the international art calendar, Christie’s highly anticipated annual evening sale of The Art of The Surreal will take place on 4 February, presenting the most valuable group of works to be offered in the category to date. The auction is led by the most important early Magritte to come to auction in a generation, Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit (The hunters at the edge of night), 1928, which has recently been part of the Museum of Modern Art’s 2013 exhibition Magritte, The Mystery of The Ordinary, 1926-1938 (estimate: £6-9 million). Comprising 54 lots, the sale features works from many important international collections including: Femmes et oiseaux (Women and Birds), 1968 (estimate: £4-7 million), offered from Miró – Seven Decades of His Art; the most significant work by Carlo Carrà to come to auction, Solitudine (Solitude) (estimate: £2.5-3.5 million), offered from Modern Masters: Works from an Important Private Swiss Collection; and Le regard intérieur (The inner gaze) by René Magritte (estimate: £500,000-700,000) offered from The Collection of the Late Mrs T. S. Elliot. A rich and varied sale which is tailored to meet the current tastes of the ever growing number of discerning global collectors of this movement, La Vénus endormie, 1943, by Paul Delvaux (estimate: £1.2-1.6 million) is offered alongside other notable works by De Chirico, Dalí, Domínguez, Ernst, Arshile Gorky, Man Ray, Tanguy and Dorothea Tanning. Estimates range from £40,000 to £9 million, with an overall pre-sale estimate of £42,960,000 to £64,550,000. Christie’s evening auctions of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist Art on 4 February have a total pre-sale estimate of £137.1 million to £199.5 million.
Olivier Camu, Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art, Christie’s: “25 years on from holding the inaugural standalone Dada and Surrealism sale and 14 years since Christie’s established its annual auction in the field, the global demand for this pioneering movement continues to go from strength to strength. Surrealist art now commands the attention of the international art market from across many collecting categories, from Old Masters to Contemporary art. We are proud to present this rich array of exemplary works, led by a monumental early Magritte and the most significant work by Carlo Carrà ever to come to auction, alongside the outstanding works from the landmark offering of the collection ‘Miró – Seven Decades of His Art’.”
Following the continuing strength of demand for works by Renè Magritte (1898-1967) at Christie’s in February 2013, a further group of nine remarkable works by the Surrealist master will be offered in the upcoming auction, led by Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit (The hunters at the edge of night), 1928, which is the cover lot of The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale catalogue. Offered at auction for the first time, it is the most important early Magritte to come to auction in a generation (estimate: £6-9 million). Prior to recently being part of the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Magritte, The Mystery of The Ordinary, 1926-1938, this work featured in many of the most important monographs and exhibitions dedicated to Magritte, beginning within his own lifetime. It was loaned by a succession of owners who were closely involved with Magritte himself: Gustave Van Hecke, E.L.T. Mesens, Claude Spaak and, from the mid-1950s, the famous William Copley.
Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, 1928, was painted in the most fruitful year of Magritte’s entire career, during the time that Magritte was based in Paris in order to be closer to the Surrealist group around André Breton. It is a reflection of the importance of Magritte’s early Surreal works that so many of them are now in museum collections around the world. Of the pictures that Magritte painted in 1928, only around one fifth were painted on the large scale of Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, which was done in the largest format of canvas that he used that year, indicating his appreciation of the importance of its subject. It has been suggested that the atmosphere of this work may owe itself to the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Magritte devoured his writings, not least in the famous translation by Charles Baudelaire, and several of his pictures appear to make references to them. In Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, the walls may recall those in The Pit and the Pendulum, a short story at the end of which hot walls are enclosing the protagonist, approaching ever closer. The sense of tension in this work is accentuated by the bulkiness of the figures, adding a sheer physicality to their efforts to free themselves.
Renè Magritte, Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit (The hunters at the edge of night), 1928. Estimate: £6-9 million © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
signed 'Magritte’ (lower right); titled (on the reverse); oil on canvas; 31 7/8 x 45 5/8 in. (81 x 116 cm.). Painted in 1928
Provenance: Galerie L'Epoque (E.L.T. Mesens), Brussels, by August 1928.
Galerie Le Centaure (P.G. van Hecke), Brussels, by whom acquired from the above in January 1929.
E.L.T. Mesens, Brussels, by whom acquired in 1932 at the liquidation of the above.
Claude Spaak, Brussels, by 1933 and until at least June 1934.
E.L.T. Mesens, London.
William and Noma Copley, Chicago, by whom acquired from the above circa 1956-1957.
Acquired from the above by the present owner on 19 October 1978.
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
Literature: Letter from Paul Nougé to René Magritte, in Lettres surrealistses, April 1928, no. 145.
Postcard from René Magritte to E.L.T. Mesens, 22 August 1928.
Variétés, Brussels, no. 7, 15 November 1928, p. 365 (illustrated).
A.De Ridder, La jeune peinture belge, de l’impressionnisme à l’expressionnisme, Antwerp, 1929, p. 39 (illustrated).
L. Scutenaire, Magritte, Chicago, 1958, no. 34.
P. Waldberg, René Magritte, Brussels, 1965, p. 128 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Magritte, London, 1969, p. 60.
A.M. Hammacher, René Magritte, London, 1974, p. 90 (illustrated p. 91).
R. Calvocoressi, Magritte, Oxford, 1984, no. 22 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester & S. Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, Oil Paintings, 1916-1930, Antwerp, 1992, no. 228, pp. 279-280 (illustrated p. 279).
D. Sylvester, J. Bouniort & M. Draguet, Magritte, Houston, 2009, p. 185 (illustrated).
S. Gohr, Magritte, Attempting the Impossible, Antwerp, 2009, no. 188, p. 128 (illustrated).
Exhibited: Brussels, Galerie l’Epoque, René Magritte, January 1928.
Brussels, Salle Giso, E.L.T. Mesens & E. van Tonderen présentent seize tableaux de René Magritte, February 1931, no. 12, p. 12.
Brussels, Palais de Beaux-Arts, Exposition René Magritte, May – June 1933, no. 9.
Brussels, Palais de Beaux-Arts, Exposition Minotaure, May – June 1934 no. 70.
New York, Julien Levy Gallery, René Magritte, January 1938, no. 7.
Knokke, Casino Communal, Ve festival belge d’été, expositions René Magritte-Paul Delvaux, August 1952, no. 9.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Dertien belgische schilders, October – November 1952, no. 57.
Brussels, Palais de Beaux-Arts, René Magritte, May – June 1954, no. 21, p. 25.
Venice, XXVII Biennale di Venezia, June – October 1954, no. 35, p. 227.
Antwerp, Stedelijke Feestzaal-Meir Antwerpen, Kunst van heden, salon 1956, October 1956, no. 102, p. 11.
Little Rock, Arkansas Art Center, Magritte, May – June 1964.
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, René Magritte, Le mystère de la réalité, August – September 1967, no. 21, p. 74 (illustrated p. 75).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, René Magritte, October – November 1967, no. 15, p. 6.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Magritte, December 1977, no. 2.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Rétrospective Magritte, October - December 1978, no. 75 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée national d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, January - April 1979.
Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Rétrospective Magritte, January – April 1979, no. 75, (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to to Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, October - December 1978.
Humlebaeck, Louisiana Museum, René Magritte, September 1983 – January 1984, no. 31, p. 49.
London, The Hayward Gallery, The Southbank Centre, Magritte, May – August 1992, no. 37 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, September – November 1992, Houston, The Menil Collection, December 1992 – February 1993, and Chicago, The Art Institute, March – May 1993.
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, René Magritte, Die Kunst der Konversation, November 1996 – March 1997, no. 3, p. 253 (illustrated p. 89).
Paris, Musée national d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, La revolution surréaliste, March – June 2002, p. 437 (illustrated p. 186).
Paris, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Magritte, February – June 2003, p. 76 (illustrated p. 77).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Magritte, The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, September 2013 – January 2014, no. 53, p. 247 (illustrated p. 114).
Notes: René Magritte's Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit is one of his iconic early Surrealist paintings, having featured in many of the most important monographs and exhibitions dedicated to his work, beginning within his own lifetime. Indeed, already only a few years after it was painted, it was being included on a regular basis in exhibitions of Magritte's pictures, to which it was lent by a succession of owners who were closely involved with Magritte himself: Gustave Van Hecke, E.L.T. Mesens, Claude Spaak and, from the mid-1950s, William Copley. Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit was painted in 1928, during the time that Magritte was based in Paris in order to be closer to the Surrealist group around André Breton. That year was the most fruitful of Magritte's entire career, reflecting the sense of enlightenment that had descended upon him as he created masterpiece after masterpiece, tapping into a rich seam of ideas and inspiration. It is a reflection of the importance of these early Surreal works by Magritte that so many of them are now in museum collections around the world. Of the pictures that Magritte painted in 1928, only around one fifth were painted on the large scale of Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, which was done in the largest format of canvas that he used that year, indicating his appreciation of the importance of its subject.
Many of the works that Magritte created in and around 1928, during his stay in the French capital, combined the poetic transformations of the everyday world that had already become his hallmark with a certain dark intensity, and even violence. Looking at several pictures from this period, for instance the two versions of Les jours gigantesque which appears to show a struggle as a prelude to a rape, Les amants with its heads covered in winding sheets, or L'idée fixe with its stalking hunter in one of the quadrants of the composition, there was a clear under- or over-tone of suspense, anxiety or violence at play. This may reflect Magritte's own personality, his preferences and his background; at the same time, it appears in tune with Breton's diktat, published in Nadja the same year Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit was painted, that, 'Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all' (A. Breton, Nadja, R. Howard, trans., New York, p. 160). Robert Hughes summed up the 'convulsive' energy of Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit when he declared:
'for panic, one need go no further than Magritte's Hunters at the Edge of the Night, 1928, with its two stocky, armed and booted chasseurs writhing in apprehension at the sight of an empty horizon. We see their fear but, inexplicably, not what they are afraid of' (R. Hughes, 'Introduction', pp. 5-8, The Portable Magritte, New York, 2001, p. 7).
In the catalogue raisonné of Magritte's works, it was suggested that the atmosphere of Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit may owe itself to the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Magritte devoured his writings, not least in the famous translation by Charles Baudelaire, and several of his pictures appear to make references to them. In Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, the walls may recall those in The Pit and the Pendulum, a short story about a victim of the elaborate torture techniques of the Spanish Inquisition, at the end of which hot walls are enclosing him, approaching ever closer (see D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, London, 1992, p. 279). Certainly, the crepuscular light appears to hint at the departing day and the oncoming night, adding a somewhat Gothic dimension to the scene with the hunters, who have themselves become the hunted, caught as though in some monumental trap. They are held fast by the wall into which their own bodies appear to have been partially absorbed: the hunter on the left has lost his foot, while the other's head is missing, seemingly immured. These fragmentary figures recall the intriguing overlapping man and woman of Les jours gigantesques, showing their common heritage. Indeed, in the catalogue raisonné of Magritte's works, it has been surmised that Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit was painted after Les jours gigantesques and was part of an almost narrative development that arched through his pictures that year, in this case ending at Le genre nocturne, a missing painting that shows a woman covering the void where her head should be with her hands, while standing next to a void in the wall.
In Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, the sense of tension is accentuated by the bulk of the figures, adding a sheer physicality to their efforts to free themselves. This struggle is likewise made all the more mysterious and dramatic by the gap to the right, where the barren landscape stretches towards the distant, glowing horizon. The corner of wall at which these hunters are standing is made all the more enigmatic by this contrast between confinement and space. According to a letter apparently written by Magritte's friend Paul Nougé around April 1928 and almost certainly discussing this picture and therefore giving its date some certainty, that composition may have changed at some point: 'Thank you so much for drawing me a picture of your latest canvas. I find it absolutely remarkable,' he wrote to the artist.
'I admire the care you have taken to particularise the event, to endow it, by the precision of certain details, with the maximum of concrete reality, thus guaranteeing, to my mind, the intensity of its effect. I also commend the precaution you have taken to eliminate that third figure which might have produced the impression of a "well-made" picture. I understand this all the better since I have often had occasion to modify in a similar way prose pieces whose perfection was becoming embarrassing, because I felt it might charm or arrest attention to the detriment of what I really wanted to achieve' (Nougé, quoted ibid., p. 279).
Reducing the composition to only two figures accentuates the terror through the contrast with the spacious landscape. At the same time, it introduces the theme of duality that runs like a thread through so much of Magritte's work from the period, be it in images that contain repeated motifs, such as his portrait of Nougé, or his earlier works, La pose enchantée, La fin des contemplations, or in pairings such as the man and woman in Les jours gigantesques or the couple in Les amants. In Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, the two figures recall the book-end-like assailants in L'assassin menacé, now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In this way, by reducing his subjects to a dualism or dichotomy, Magritte was able to tap into some of the fundamental aspects of human nature, ageless themes which are given new momentum in his works, viewed from new perspectives. Even the concept of the wall, such an everyday element of life, becomes mysterious and dangerous in Magritte's universe, trapping these hunters and suffocating one of them. The solid aspects of our existence become mutable and magical. As Magritte wrote to Nougé the year before he painted Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit:
'I think I have made a really striking discovery in painting. Up to now I have used composite objects, or else the placing of an object was sometimes enough to make it mysterious... I have found a new potential in things - their ability to become gradually something else, an object merging into an object other than itself' (Magritte, quoted in J. Helfenstein & C. Elliott, '"A Lightning Flash Is Smoldering beneath the Bowler Hats": Paris 1927-1930', pp. 70-87, A. Umland, ed., Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-1938, exh. cat., New York, 2013, p. 73).
Nowhere is this more clear than in Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit with the men being absorbed by the wall; Magritte has also managed to add a terrifying dimension to this forced juxtaposition of two separate concepts, man and material.
Magritte made a second version of Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, which was painted by 1936, was exhibited several times, and was owned by Mesens; it was destroyed while in storage in London during the Second World War (see D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. IV, London, 1994, app. 131, pp. 322-23). By an intriguing twist, Nougé would serve as the model when Magritte revisited the theme of the hunter whose body is partially caught in a wall in a subsequent variation, his 1943 picture, La gravitation universelle. That work was based on a photograph that Magritte took, showing Nougé in hunting garb by the wall. The fact that Magritte returned to this subject against the backdrop of the Occupation reveals his own understanding of the ability of this theme to convey feelings of intense anxiety and entrapment, both then and earlier, when he created Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit.
Looking at Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit in comparison with La gravitation universelle, it becomes clear that the former is a far more stylised work, with its stocky hunters. The physicality of these figures, which featured in a number of pictures from the period, adds to the pathos of their plight, as they are trapped regardless of the implied strength of their bodies; this effect is heightened by the large size of the picture - Magritte only painted around a fifth of his 1928 works on a canvas of this scale. These forms are almost expressionistic in their distortions and hint at the possibility, discussed by numerous authors including David Sylvester, that Magritte had been influenced partly by reproductions of the frieze showing the battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. Certainly, the missing body parts recall ancient statuary, while the incredible sculptural quality of these squat hunters also recalls the Greek frieze, with its figures shown in high relief. At the same time, the depiction of the subjects also recalls Pablo Picasso's works from the early 1920s; living in Paris at the time, it is reasonable to suppose that Magritte would have been able to see those works as well as Picasso's more recent Surreal output.
Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit was sent by Magritte from Paris to the Galerie de L'Epoque in Brussels later in 1928. Indeed, on 22 August, he wrote Mesens a note thanking him for letting him know that 'The Hunters is in perfect condition' (Magritte, quoted in Sylvester, op. cit., 1992, p. 279). This shows an early title that had been adopted for the work; later, it was referred to by Magritte as Les chasseurs condamnés, while Nougé suggested compromis instead. However, by the time it was exhibited publicly for the first time in 1931, the title had reached its current form.
That exhibition took place at the Salle Giso in Brussels and was quite an event. It marked the return of Magritte from Paris the previous year. On the occasion, a number of his more recent works were shown - strangely, few of the pictures from 1928 had been shown in galleries, although Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit had already been published in Variétés, the short-lived review edited by the work's then owner, Van Hecke, having been kept by him from the stock of the then-dissolved Galerie L'Epoque. In 1930, Magritte had tired of Paris and in particular of the strictures of the Surreal movement there, which followed Breton too rigorously for the Belgian artist's liking. He appears to have actively sought out an occasion to squabble with Breton and then, following this, left. He was clearly keen to leave his years of Parisian Surrealism behind him: he apparently burnt many of his photographs, letters and documents from the period with his friend Louis Scutenaire. Indeed, the incinerated objects even included an overcoat, a mark of his desire to eradicate certain memories (see S. Gablik, Magritte, London, 1992, p. 65).
Magritte's return to Brussels was fêted with an exhibition that certainly underlined his Surreal credentials. According to a review, the show in which Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit was first revealed, having been lent by Van Hecke alongside fifteen other works mainly from Nougé, was opened in a spectacular manner:
'The first guests were surprised to find the hall plunged in darkness, and two lackeys in scarlet livery and with powdered hair standing on either side of an enormous lighted candle. A double metronome ticked away the while in the empty silence.
'About one o'clock in the morning, some fifty guests, among whom could be discerned up to three Surrealists, including two dissidents, crowded around the buffet, where whisky and gin were flowing freely. A gramophone began playing barrel-organ tunes, and M. Créten-George opened the ball, and was followed by all the bright young things.
'It was only at a very late hour that the assembled guests, intrigued by the ecstatic look which Mlle Solange Moret from the Casino was gazing intently at the walls, suddenly discovered hanging there some pictures belonging to M. Nougé, painted by M. Magritte. A concert of praise was immediately organised under the brilliant direction of M. Gustave van Hecke' (Le rouge et le noir, 18 February 1931, reproduced in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, London, 1993, p. 9).
In fact, it appears that the valets had their faces painted green; the music was discordant for part of the soirée as different tunes were being played simultaneously on four gramophones, and early in the morning, the lights were raised so that the pictures on the walls, including Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, became visible. The evening clearly passed well, not least for Magritte, about whom it was written elsewhere:
'The painter M... who was the hero of the evening, danced a great deal. To demonstrate his ardent love of the people, he granted a waltz to one of the liveried valets, and then performed the java with the cloakroom attendant. She was, in fact, extremely charming... Which goes to show that Surrealists are not stuck-up' (Midi, 12 February 1931, quoted ibid., p. 9).
Two years later, Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit was included in a one-man show held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels; this was one of the few pictures from the period that had previously been exhibited. By then, Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit was lent by Magritte's friend, Claude Spaak. The pair had met in 1931, and Spaak would become an important supporter of Magritte's work as well as a prominent collector. Spaak also lent Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit to an exhibition dedicated to the predominantly Surreal review, Minotaure, in 1934, also held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts. On this occasion, the picture was shown alongside a formidable selection of works by a wide range of artists including Constantin Brancusi, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Man Ray, Henri Matisse and Picasso (see ibid., p. 26).
In the 1950s, Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit was acquired by William Copley. Although Copley had initially shown little interest in art, in 1948 he and his brother-in-law John Ploydardt, an artist and animator for Walt Disney, together set up an art gallery (see S. Cochran, 'Passing the Hat: René Magritte and William Copley', pp. 75-79, S. Barron & M. Draguet, Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, exh. cat., Los Angeles, 2006). Although the Copley Gallery which they founded in Beverly Hills was short-lived, it was nonetheless influential, exposing Magritte and a number of other Surreal artists to the West Coast. At the same time, for Copley, who was a man of independent means, it provided a springboard into the world of the Surreal. He would financially back each exhibition by buying works, and was introduced to a number of the artists who had fled France for the United States during the Second World War.
Eventually, after the closure of the gallery, Copley accompanied Man Ray to Europe and lived in France for a decade. Copley himself had become an artist in his own right by this time. During that time, he was introduced to Magritte, with whom he had already corresponded and whose works he had already collected. Apparently, the initial meeting was a disappointment: Copley was surprised, after the flamboyance of the Parisian Surrealists, to find a man wearing respectable bourgeois garb. But soon he was fascinated by Magritte's uniform, which often served as a foil to his outrageous acts and visionary art. Indeed, Copley himself would pay Magritte the ultimate compliment by adopting the iconic bowler hat as part of his own outfit in later years. This was a mark of the esteem in which he held Magritte, which also became the basis of their friendship. It is a tribute to their relationship that Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit would remain in Copley's collection for over two decades.
Miró – Seven Decades of His Art is an outstanding collection of 85 works showcasing seven decades of Joan Miró’s (1893–1983) rich and dynamic career, which will be offered on 4 and 5 February. This is one of the most extensive and impressive offerings of works by the artist ever to come to auction. An important figure in 20th century art, Miró was highly influential for a huge number of artists, from Picasso to Pollock. Most often associated with Surrealism, Miró’s work has an appeal that transcends traditional categories, with today’s market seeing collectors of both Impressionist & Modern Art and Post-War & Contemporary Art compete for his paintings, works on paper and sculptures. The property was formerly in a private corporate collection and is now being sold by decision of the Portuguese Republic.
Highlighting Miró’s incredible ability to innovate, the works feature a wide range of materials and techniques as well as his key themes and subjects, from poetry and dreams to music and stars, women and birds. He was an artist who allowed himself to be influenced by a range of things, from music, poetry and then hallucinations induced by hunger during his early years in Paris, to patterns made by chance, to the materials themselves. The top two lots are both monumental works: Femmes et oiseaux (Women and Birds), 1968 (estimate: £4-7 million) and Peinture, 1953, (estimate: £2.5-3.5 million). With estimates ranging from £10,000 to £7 million, this collection provides collectors at every level with a remarkable opportunity to not only add key works to established collections but for new collectors and enthusiasts to buy their very first work from Miró’s rich oeuvre. The works will be offered across three sales: The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale, 4 February; Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale and Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper Sale, 5 February; the complete collection is expected to realise in excess of £30 million.
Joan Miró (1893-1983), Femmes et oiseaux (Women and Birds). Estimate £4-7 million. © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
signed 'Miró' (centre right); signed again, dated '3/I/68’ and titled (on the reverse); oil on canvas; 96½ X 49 in. (245.2 X 124.6 cm.). Painted on 3 January 1968
Provenance: Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (no. ST 7700).
Acquavella Galleries, New York (no. 2424).
Private collection, Japan, by whom acquired from the above.
Private collection, Lisbon, by whom acquired from the above in 2003.
PROPERTY SOLD BY DECISION OF THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC
Literature: J. J. Sweeney, Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1970, no. 165 (illustrated).
J. Dupin & A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings, vol. IV, 1959-1968, Paris, 2002, no. 1275, p. 215 (illustrated).
Exhibited: Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Joan Miró, 1968, no. 107 (illustrated, titled 'Femme et oiseau').
Barcelona, Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu, Joan Miró, November 1968 - January 1969, no. 113 (illustrated p. 119).
Yokohama, Yokohama Museum of Art, Joan Miró, Centennial Exhibition: The Pierre Matisse Collection, January - March 1992, no. 93 (illustrated p. 133).
Palermo, Palazzo Sant'Elia, España, Spanish Art 1957-2007, May - September 2008, p. 151 (illustrated).
Palma de Mallorca, Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, Joan Miro´, evocacio´ de la imatge femenina, December 2008 – March 2009, p. 129 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Valencia, Fundació Bancaja, March – June 2009.
Notes: Illustrating one of the most enduring and characteristic themes in Joan Miró’s oeuvre, Femmes et oiseaux offers a poetic and important example of the freedom of execution and audacity with which the artist approached painting in the 1960s. On the occasion of Miró’s seventy-fifth birthday in 1968 – the year Femmes et oiseaux was painted – a major retrospective was organized, shown first at Saint-Paul-de-Vence at the Fondation Maeght, then in Barcelona at the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu and finally in Munich at the Haus der Kunst. The show featured a wide selection of works from Miró’s career, but it also showcased his latest production, emphasizing the creative stride that still animated his art. Femmes et oiseaux was exhibited on that occasion, both in Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Barcelona, where the show marked a memorable date: it was the first time in fifty years that Spain had dedicated an important exhibition to Miró.
Executed with broad brushstrokes and fluid lines, Femmes et oiseaux exemplifies the calligraphic dimension which Miró explored in his works in the late 1960s. In 1966, Miró had travelled to Japan, where Tokyo and Kyoto museums had organised a retrospective of his work. On that occasion, the artist had the chance to visit the country’s museums and experience the local culture. The trip also rekindled Miró’s interest in and admiration for calligraphy. In the years which followed, his lines became more ample, his signs more potent. In its verticality – which recalls the presence of a Japanese scroll – and in the intricate smoothness of its lines, Femmes et oiseaux evokes the artist’s fascination for the oriental art of calligraphy. Miró himself acknowledged the connection in 1968: ‘These long paintings, for example, evoke Japanese writing. That is because I feel deeply in harmony with the Japanese soul’ (J. Miró quoted in ‘Article (Excerpts), by Pierre Bourcier, in Les Nouvelles Littéraires (Paris), August 8, 1968’, p. 275, in Margit Rowell, (ed.), Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 275).
The birds and women who inhabit Femmes et oiseaux were motifs that recurred, often in conjunction with each other, throughout his work, first appearing decades earlier and subsequently becoming important touchstones for the artist. Indeed, they came increasingly to the fore in the wake of his celebrated Constellations. In Femmes et oiseaux, birds and women have dissolved into round, embryonic forms, colliding and echoing each other at the centre of the picture. They evoke a fluid world of shifting entities, totemic presences and hybrid creatures of which Miró’s unconscious, poetic gesture held the cues. The esoteric world from which Femmes et oiseaux emanates was hinted at by the artist when he declared: ‘I believe in obscure forces. I believe in astrology. I am Taurus, with Scorpio in the ascendant. Perhaps that is why there are spheres and circles in many of my paintings – to evoke the governing planets’ (J. Miró, quoted in Ibid., p. 275). Inspired by calligraphy, yet governed by Miró’s most recondite spiritual instincts, Femmes et oiseaux offers an intriguing, distinguished example of Miró’s ability to widen and deepen his creative universe, plunging into the infallible vast ocean of his imagination.
In its gestural execution, Femmes et oiseaux not only illustrates Miró’s fascination for calligraphy and ease of execution, but also stands as an example of the artist’s fresh, inquiring response to one of the prevalent art movements of those years, namely Abstract Expressionism. Already in 1952, Miró had attended the Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Galerie Facchetti in Paris. Pollock’s dripping technique encouraged Miró to explore gestural brushwork and expand his expressive means. ‘It showed me a direction I wanted to take’, Miró recalled, ‘which up until then had remained at the stage of an unfulfilled desire’ (J. Miró quoted in ‘Interview with Margit Rowell Unpublished. Paris, April 20, 1970’, pp. 279-280, in Margit Rowell, (ed.), Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 279). Following that intuition, in Femmes et oiseaux Miró juxtaposed fuzzy, untamed areas of colour to vast areas of black and white, introducing an instinctive balance in the picture, determined by the artist’s free gestural action on the canvas.
Developing an early theme into a new pictorial dimension, Femmes et oiseaux epitomises the great freedom which Miró discovered in his maturity. In the last twenty years of his life, Miró continued to draw from elements of his early career, yet he developed the characterising symbols of his art in new, audacious ways. Miró’s friend and leading authority Jacques Dupin observed: ‘The last two decades of Miró’s works render impossible any attempt to define stages or isolate moments (…) The flow of Miró’s works no longer followed a course fraught with capricious undulations, and marked by an alternating series of pauses and crises. Rather, they had found their way into a vast and complex delta, where any attempt at chronology no longer holds sway’ (J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 326). Femmes et oiseaux offers a remarkable example of the whimsical, enthralling world of images that Miró had first introduced decades earlier and yet which continued to inspire him, prompting new innovations rendered with absorbing passion.
Joan Miró (1893-1983), Painting. Estimate £2.5-3.5 million. © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
signed 'Miró' (lower right); oil on canvas; 22 3/8 x 196 1/2 in. (56.7 x 499 cm.). Painted in 1953.
Provenance: Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Acquavella Galleries, Reno, Nevada (no. 446).
Private collection, Japan, by whom acquired from the above.
Private collection, Lisbon, by whom acquired from the above in 2005.
PROPERTY SOLD BY DECISION OF THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC
Literature: J. Dupin, Joan Miró, Life and Work, London, 1962, no. 838, p. 563 (illustrated p. 420).
J. Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1993, no. 316, p. 295 (illustrated pp. 294-295).
J. Dupin & A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné, Paintings, vol. III, 1942-1955, no. 939, p. 214 (illustrated pp. 214-215).
Exhibited: Yokohama, Yokohama Museum of Art, Joan Miró, Centennial Exhibition: The Pierre Matisse Collection, January - March 1992, no. 70 (illustrated pp. 106-107).
Notes: Executed in 1953, Peinture belongs to a series of large-scale works Joan Miró executed in the 1950s. He named those vertical and horizontal panels ‘bandes’, emphasising their scroll-like unfolding; according to Jacques Dupin – the great authority on Miró’s work – ‘among them there are some of Miró’s most beautiful and important works’ (J. Dupin, Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 297). In Peinture, over a trembling azure background, Miró arranged a series of ‘miroglyphs’: evoking birds, insects and stars, they populate the surface with childhood-like spontaneity. Five–meters long, the work unrolls in front of the viewer like a frieze, yet no narrative seems to properly occur: rather, the viewer finds himself to walk along the picture freely, accompanied by Miró’s creatures, coexisting in space simultaneously like they first did in the artist’s mind.
The horizontal format and formidable extended scale of Peinture evoke the public dimension of mural art. Miró was familiar with the format, since in 1947 he had executed a nine-meter-long canvas for the Gourmets Restaurant in Cincinnati. That mural painting was also developed on a blue, textured background, on which meticulous and linear creatures expanded, animating the whole surface. In order to execute the work, Miró travelled to New York for the first time; there he received another commission: Marcel Duchamp asked Miró to paint a frieze for the International Surrealist Exhibition planned that year in Paris. Painted on a long stretch of canvas, the frieze comprised a series of symbols drawn from the artist’s universe and simplified in order to evoke the primordial signs of cave painting. Neither an easel painting nor a public commission,Peinture suggests that in 1953 Miró returned to mural painting as a way of stretching the limits of his work. The elongated form of the canvas required the artist to find a strong rhythm in the composition; at the same time the lack of narrative asked for an intuitive, spontaneous execution.
Together with another large canvas painted in 1953 and now held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Peinture opened a new chapter in the stylistic journey of Miró’s art. Dupin defined it as an ‘expansion tendency’. Leaving behind the precision of his ‘elaborate style’, Miró set out to loosen up control and explore a more instinctive approach. As Dupin wrote, ‘Calling upon all his powers for direct, uncompromising expressiveness, he achieved a kind of improvisation, at once grandiose and rigorous’ (J. Dupin, Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 292). In Peinture, Miró displayed the symbols in order to create a sense of rhythm in the composition: a long central black brushstroke divides the canvas into three parts, while two stars at each ends of the composition give a sense of symmetry. Yet the picture maintains a sense of floating free, developing its signs from left to right in a seemingly spontaneous sequence. The viewer’s eye wonders freely, comforted by the underlying strength of the composition.
To achieve such an effect, in the bandes series Miró gave more emphasis to the background, letting the surface suggest the movements of the picture. As Dupin observed, ‘the background served to create a storm-tossed atmosphere, generating sufficient electricity to put the painter in a hypnotic state in which he was able to transmit directly onto the canvas a deposit of inner energies notable for their crude, raw, expressiveness’ (Ibid., p. 292). Miró himself described this approach, explaining the way he started painting in 1959: ‘I start my paintings under the influence of a shock that I feel and that takes me out of reality. The cause of the shock can be a little thread coming loose from the canvas, a drop of water falling, this print that my finger leaves on the shiny surface of this table. Anyway, I need a starting point, even if it’s only a grain of dust or a flash of light. This shape generates a series of things, one thing giving birth to another’ (‘Miró: I work like a gardener…’, pp. 423-428, in Joan Miró 1893-1983, exh. cat., Barcelona, 1993, p. 425). In its horizontal unfolding of signs, Peinture expanded this approach into a new dimension, challenging the artist’s creative power on a large scale.
Stretching over five meters, Peinture is a work that can equally be overwhelming absorbing for an individual or indeed inviting for a larger crowd. The same year Miró painted Peinture, he also executed another horizontal painting, of exactly the same dimensions (J. Dupin, A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró: Catalogue raisonné. Paintings, vol. III, no. 940, p. 215; Collection Paule and Adrien Maeght). Miró might have intended the two works to form a pair in which to the blue of the present picture would be parallel by the earthy colours of its companion. Together, the two ‘bandes’ would have demanded a large space to be exhibited; this suggests that the artist might have hoped that the pair might find a public display. Miró had expressed his desire to work on a large scale as early as 1938; that year he had confessed: ‘My dream, once I am able to settle down somewhere, is to have a very large studio, not so much for reasons of brightness, northern light, and so on, which I don’t care about, but in order to have enough room to hold many canvases, because the more I work the more I want to work. I would like to try (…) to go beyond easel painting, which in my opinion has a narrow goal, and to bring myself closer, through painting, to the human masses I have never stopped thinking about’ (‘I dream of a large studio. In XXe Siècle, Paris, May 1938’, pp. 161-162, in Margit Rowell, (ed.), Joan Miró Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 162).
The 1947 Cincinnati commission had showed the artist that his poetic language could reach a large audience and that his whimsical signs were strong enough to fill vast spaces. The artist, however, would have to wait until 1956 for his dream of a ‘large studio’ to come true: that year, the architect Josep Lluís Sert completed Miró’s studio in Palma de Mallorca. Finally, the artist had the space to tackle large, ambitious canvases. Works such as Peinture, however, suggests that already in 1953 and despite the constrains of his studio, Miró felt the need to expand his paintings onto a larger format. In a radio interview in 1951, Miró had in fact affirmed: ‘I hope for a physical contact with people, with ordinary people, with all people’ (‘Interview. French National Radio (Georges Charbonnier), 1951’, pp. 219-224, in M. Rowell, (ed.), Joan Miró, Selected Writing and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 217). Generously calling for a communal experience, Peinture conveys Miró’s wish to open the doors of the magical world of his universe to a large, inspired audience.
Modern Masters: Works from an Important Private Swiss Collection comprises an exceptional and historic group of works which will be offered across all four King Street sales on 4 and 5 February. The Surrealist works in the collection are led by the most significant work by Carlo Carrà to come to auction, Solitudine (Solitude), started in 1917 (estimate: £2.5-3.5 million) and L’Oiseau-nocturne, 1939, by Joan Miró (estimate: £1-1.5 million). Collections often reflect their collectors’ tastes and histories, but seldom do they also reflect their friendships and relationships as much as the 22 works of art assembled by a private Swiss couple. Behind almost all of these works are tales of friendship, as the collectors came to know many of the artists who are represented, meeting a number of the leading figures of the avant garde from the 1920s onwards. Living a reality confined merely to dreams for many, they were able to meet Constantin Brancusi, to see Pablo Picasso’s Guernica while it was in its studio, to support the impoverished and embattled Piet Mondrian and to entertain Hans Arp on a regular basis. Two published authors, who were authorities in their field, the couple were prominent in the cultural milieu of Switzerland and Europe as a whole, particularly in the middle decades of the 20th century. Coming to the market for the first time, the collection as a whole is expected to realise in the excess of £30 million.
Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), Solitudine (Solitude). Estimate £2.5-3.5 million. © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
signed and dated 'C. Carrà 917’ (lower left); oil on canvas; 36 x 21 7/8 in. (91.5 x 55.5 cm.). Painted between 1917 and 1926
Provenance: Private collection, Zurich, by whom acquired directly from the artist circa 1926, and thence by descent to the present owner.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTION
Literature: The artist's Archives: photo of the work in its first state (signed and dated upper left 'C. Carrà 1917').
"L'Illustrazione medica italiana", 1921 (first state illustrated, titled 'Impressioni dell'ospedale neurologico "Villa del Seminario" a Ferrara').
M. Broglio, ed., Valori Plastici, Anno III, no. 1, Rome, 1921 (first state illustrated, signed and dated upper left 'C. Carrà 919').
A. Soffici, Carlo Carrà, Arte Moderna Italiana, vol. XI, Milan, 1928 (illustrated).
G. Cerrina, "Carlo Carrà" in La Provincia di Bolzano, 26 November 1932.
V. Costantini, Pittura italiana contemporanea, Milan, 1934, pp. 394 & 426 (illustrated p. 221).
R. Huyge, Histoire de l’art contemporain, Paris, 1935.
C. L. Ragghianti, "Carrà" in Critica d’arte, 1936.
R. Longhi, Carlo Carrà, Arte Moderna Italiana, vol. XI, Milan, 1937 (illustrated pl. VII).
M. Masciotta, "La pittura metafisica", in Letteratura, 1941.
G. Pacchioni, Carlo Carrà, Milan, 1945 (illustrated pl. 11).
J. Thrall Soby, Twentieth Century Italian Art, New York, 1949.
L. Vitali, Preferenze, Milan, 1950.
C. Zervos, Cahiers d’art I, Paris, 1950.
R. Carrieri, Pittura e scultura d’avanguardia in Italia, Milan, 1950.
U. Apollonio, Pittura Metafisica, Venezia, 1950 (first state illustrated).
C. Cardazzo, Carrà, Venice, 1952.
W. Schmalenbach, Grosse Meister Moderner Malerei, Lucerne, 1957.
R. Modesti, Pittura italiana contemporanea, Milan, 1958.
M. Valsecchi, La pittura metafisica, Milan, 1958.
M. Valsecchi, Carrà, Milan, 1962.
E. Cecchi, Carrá, in Exh. Cat, Carrà, Milan, 1962.
S. Branzi, "Carlo Carrà", in L’osservatore, 1962.
G. Ballo, La linea dell’arte italiana, Rome, 1964.
M. Carrà, Carrà, Tutta l’opera pittorica, vol. I, 1900-1930, Milan, 1967, no. 3/17, p. 585 (illustrated p. 315).
M. Carrà & P. Bigongiari, L’opera complete di Carrà, dal futurismo alla metafisica e al realismo mitico, 1910-1930, Milan, 1970, no. 72, p. 91 (illustrated pl. XXI).
C. Giedion-Welcker, Schriften 1926-1971, Cologne, 1973, no. 38 (illustrated).
C. Carrà, La mia vita, Rome, 1981, pp. 137 & 138.
Exh. cat., Carlo Carrà, Rome, 1994, pp. 130, 131 & 163 (both first and final state illustrated).
F. Rovati, Carrà tra futurismo e metafisica, Milan, 2011, n. 26, p. 122 (first state illustrated).
Exhibited: Milan, Galleria Chini, Mostra personale del pittore futurista Carlo Carrà, December 1917 - January 1918 (probably in the first state).
Galleria L'Epoca, May - June 1918.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Italienische Maler, March – May 1927, no. 15.
Sasso Marconi, La Casa dell’Arte, Carlo Carrà, Mostra del Centenario, 100 dipinti e 35 disegni dal 1900 al 1966, February – April 1981, no. 19 (illustrated).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Carrà, Mostra antologica, April - June 1987.
Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, XIII Esposizione Quadriennale d’Arte, “Valori Plastici”, October 1998 – January 1999, no. 50, p. 312 (both first and final state illustrated p. 35; final state illustrated again p. 222).
Notes: Solitudine (Solitude), despite its title, is an important testimony to one of the most intense, most influential encounters in the history of Italian modern art. First conceived in the middle of the First World War, in a withdrawn hospital outside Ferrara, the painting commemorates one of the most significant years in the career of Carlo Carrà, when in 1917 he met and worked closely together with Giorgio de Chirico. Carrà worked on the painting between 1917 and 1926, the year in which the work was acquired by the family of the present in its second, current state. While Solitudine testifies to the intellectual bond that Carrà and de Chirico shared that year, the work also states Carrà’s singularity, expressing some of his deepest beliefs about art and situating his metaphysical art into an orbit distinct from that of de Chirico’s.
Set in the enclosed space of a bare room, the scenery in Solitudine appears as reminiscent of a science lesson. Left alone with these objects of contemplation, the viewer is confronted with the serious tools of learning: a blackboard displaying an unfinished geometry theorem and an assembled anatomy model. Yet, displayed in the foreground, a bright red skittle breaks this solemn atmosphere of pedagogy, introducing instead a symbol of play, instability, and childhood. Two worlds seem thus to collide in this placid scene of abandoned activity, in which human presence has been replaced by the powerful poise of some commanding objects.
Dated 1917 by the artist, Solitudine was first started around the time of Carrà’s encounter with de Chirico. Their meeting was fostered as much by a mutual friend – the painter Ardengo Soffici - as by fate. In January 1917, Carrà was assigned to the 27th Infantry Regiment, serving in Pieve di Cento, near Ferrara. In February, he received a letter from Soffici lamenting the fact that he had not been deployed in Ferrara: ‘It is a real shame that you were not sent to Ferrara. There you would have met the de Chirico brothers’. He nevertheless urged him: ‘If you go to Ferrara, you absolutely have to look for them’ (Soffici, Letter to Carrà, 16 February 1917, quoted in M. Pasquali, ‘Carrà e Ferrara, 1917’, pp. 89-96, in Carlo Carrà 1881-1966, exh. cat., Rome, 1994, p. 91). De Chirico and his brother Alberto Savinio had in fact arrived in Ferrara in 1915, serving in the same regiment to which Carrà had been assigned. A couple of weeks later, de Chirico and Carrà made their first written contact. De Chirico wrote to him: ‘I regret not having found you; I would have liked you to see some of my most recent paintings’ (De Chirico, letter to Carrà, 27 February 1917, quoted Ibid., p. 91). In March, however, the two painters had finally met. In a triumphal letter to his friend Carrà, Soffici cheered: ‘My dearest friend, I was told by de Chirico that you have finally met and that he has great respect for you and that he loves you’ (Soffici, letter to Carrà, 28 March 1917, quoted Ibid., p. 92). In the following weeks, Carrà and de Chirico met again, exchanging opinions and planning to publish an album of their works together.
Ultimately, however, Carrà and de Chirico’s artistic friendship would be precipitated by the trauma of war. In April, de Chirico was hospitalised at the Military Neurological Hospital in Ferrara, as ‘neurasthenic’. Two weeks later, Carrà arrived at the same hospital suffering psychic depression. Their illnesses proved to be a blessing in disguise: withdrawn from the horrors of war and able to share their anxieties, the two painters had the chance to sublimate their disquieting feelings, working closely together on a series of paintings, destined to become highly influential for generations to come. In May, Carrà wrote in a letter: ‘I’m living through these days of military bestiality with a dear friend and together we sustain each other in order not to end up in despair. Here we can have that bit of calm that allows us to work on our paintings’ (Carrà, Letter to Gherardo Marone, 5 Maggio 1917, quoted Ibid., p. 92). Solitudine was born in that context of unexpected calm, in which the troubled days of war still resonated in waves of angst and consternation.
It is very interesting, in fact, that the first title of Solitudine was Impressioni dell'ospedale neurologico "Villa del Seminario" a Ferrara (Impressions of the Neurological Hospital “Villa del Seminario” in Ferrara), a more narrative and descriptive account of the seminal moment in Carrà’s life, defined by the almost surreal elimination of the war dramas in the estranged atmosphere of the neurological hospital. The evolution from this first title to Solitudine, loneliness, which is also in itself a very metaphysical state of mind, is also symptomatic of this process of simplification from one state to the final, from a narrative preoccupation to a more pure solution, in line with Valori Plastici.
In its composition, Solitudine bears the sign of Carrà and de Chirico’s strong artistic bonding. Presenting a mannequin staring at an enigmatic board, the painting is reminiscent of two compositions de Chirico executed a few years earlier: Le Vaticinateur (1915) and Le Poète et le philosophe (1914-1915). Both works evoke the intimate, mystical world of creation through the figure of a contemplative mannequin and the hypnotic abyss of a blackboard. Through those paintings de Chirico wished to evoke the figure of the artist as a seer, as the interpreter of the enigma of existence, revealing a new hidden dimension. In 1917, Carrà wrote to Soffici: ‘together with de Chirico, we discuss and paint new realities’, suggesting that by then he too shared de Chirico’s approach to art (Carrà, Letter to Soffici, 5 June 1917, quoted ibid, p. 92). Re-elaborating a theme explored by de Chirico to express the role of the metaphysical painter, Solitudine might have served Carrà as the gateway to Pittura Metafisica, preparing the ground for works such as La camera incantata (1917), Madre e figlio (1917) and La musa metafisica (1917).
In its distilled composition and linear structure, Solitudine ultimately expresses Carrà’s individual perspective on Pittura Metafisica, manifesting his very personal approach to figurative painting. The work as it appears, in fact, constitutes a second state, the changing of the composition revealing how Carrà distanced himself from de Chirico. A reproduction of the painting in its earlier state was published in 1921 in Valori Plastici, the influential art review published by Edita and Mario Broglio, to which Carrà, de Chirico and Savinio contributed extensively. The composition shown there was more elaborate: surrounding the mannequin was a series of abandoned, out-of-proportion objects much reminiscent of de Chirico’s still life compositions from 1916-1917. In particular, Carrà placed a tray of biscuits in the foreground, a detail which de Chirico himself had lifted from the shop windows of Ferrara the previous year. The perspective of the room appears more vertiginous, an impression which is reinforced by the oblique orientations of the coloured baton on the floor and of the blackboard. Overall, that first state aimed to achieve the same spatial ambiguity that de Chirico was exploring in his paintings at the time.
Carrà eventually reintroduced stability and balance into the picture through a series of changes, certainly completed before 1926, date in which the painting was acquired by the family of the present owner in its present state. Reworking Solitudine, Carrà lowered the furthest wall in order to reduce the foreshortening of the room and straightened the plane of the blackboard, bringing it almost parallel to the background. He also elongated the pedestal of the mannequin, giving its figure more élan and stability, and erased all other elements except for the skittle, which – of reduced dimensions – now serves as the central, vertical point of focus for the whole composition. Through these changes, Carrà gave the composition rigour and symmetry, two principles that remained extraneous to de Chirico’s works of the period.
The differences in Carrà and de Chirico’s compositions are reflected in the written accounts the two artists left on their art. For de Chirico, Pittura Metafisica had to escape all ‘human limits: logic and common sense’, in order to enter ‘the regions of childhood vision and dream’. De Chirico specified: ‘it is most important that we should rid art of all that it has contained of recognizable material to date, all familiar subject matter’ (G. de Chirico, ‘Mystery and Creation’, pp. 60-61, in C. Harrison, P. Wood, eds., Art in Theory 1900-1990, Oxford, 1992, p. 60). By contrast, Carrà wrote: ‘Ordinary things reveal those forms of simplicity that indicates a upper state of the soul, which constitutes all the secret magnificence of art’ (C. Carrà, ‘Delle cose ordinare’, in Classici dell’arte: L’Opera Completa di Carrà, Milan, 1970, p. 86). While de Chirico strived to capture a different reality beyond the quotidian and inspired by the irrational strong sensations of dreams, Carrà maintained a more intellectual approach, rooted in the unexpected amazement provoked by simple things. Even though in 1917, Carrà let the objects and figures of de Chirico’s Pittura Metafisica invade his work, the two different states of Solitudine illustrate how he eventually filtered them through a personal lens, shaped by his own sense of artistic tradition.
Carrà’s involvement with Pittura Metafisica in 1917 was paralleled by a growing interest for the masters of the Renaissance, which in fact permeates Solitudine. In 1916, leaving behind him his Futurist experience, Carrà published two studies in La Voce, one dedicated to Giotto (Parlata su Giotto), the other to Paolo Uccello (Paolo Uccello Costruttore). Later on, he explicitly acknowledged the link between his interest in Renaissance art and his involvement with Pittura Metafisica: ‘with Pittura Metafisica (…) we tried to re-establish that superior equilibrium that we had found so magnificently expressed in the work of Piero [della Francesca]’ (C. Carrà, quoted in A. Monferini, ‘Il platonismo di Carrà e le opera metafisiche tra il 1916-1919’, pp. 81-88, in Carlo Carrà 1881-1966, exh. cat., Rome, 1994, p. 87). Viewed from this perspective, Carrà’s mannequins acquire a different meaning from those of de Chirico’s. While in de Chirico’s painting the mannequin conveys the dread of a machine impending onto the human form, in Carrà it embodies an effort to understand and intellectualise the human form. Maurizio Calvesi traced the influence of the plates featured in Dürer’s treatise on human proportions in paintings such as Solitudine: divided into modules, the mannequin expressed Carrà’s desire – as it had been Dürer’s – of understanding the world through its art, grasping the hidden rules of nature. Solitudine opened the way to works such as L’Idolo Ermafrodito, in which the scientific appearance of the mannequin has given form to a more humanised, idealised form, reminiscent of the eternal figures of Renaissance art. Triggered by his encounter with de Chirico, Carrà’s metaphysical phase allowed the artist to develop his own sense of tradition, in which the force of Renaissance art found a new way into Modernity.
If Solitudine in its second state signalled Carrà’s independence from de Chirico’s Pittura Metafisica, its first state would however prove to be one of the most influential images for the European avant-garde. The reproductions of Carrà’s metaphysical works in Valori Plastici grabbed the attention of artists such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dalì and George Grosz, providing them with a language they could use in order to express their fascination for the uncanny and for the malaise in modern society. In the 1920s, Carrà pushed forward that sense of historical continuation expressed in the second state of Solitudine, adhering to the ‘retour à l’ordre’ in order to explore tradition in a more overt way. Telling the story of Carrà and de Chirico’s encounter, while tracing Carrà’s personal trajectory, however, Solitudine remains one of the most emblematic woks of Pittura Metafisica, marking the dawn of Modernism. Just after Carrà had met de Chirico, Soffici exulted: ‘After the war we will achieve great and marvellous things’ (Soffici, letter to Carrà, 28 March 1917, quoted in M. Pasquali, ‘Carrà e Ferrara, 1917’, pp. 89-96, in Carlo Carrà 1881-1966, exh. cat., Rome, 1994, p. 92). Started before the end of the war, Solitudine proves instead that, already in 1917, that moment had arrived.
Joan Miró (1893-1983), L'Oiseau-nocturne (Nocturnal Bird). Estimate £1-1.5 million. © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
signed 'Miró' (lower right); signed 'Joan Miró', dated '30-8-939.' and titled (on the reverse); oil on canvas; 16 1/4 x 10 5/8 in. (41.3 x 27 cm.). Painted on 30 August 1939.
Provenance: Private collection, Zurich, and thence by descent to the present owners.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTION
Literature: J. Prévert & G. Ribemont-Dessaignes, Joan Miró, Paris, 1956, p. 144 (illustrated).
J. Dupin, Joan Miró, Life and Work, London, 1962, no. 527, p. 540 (illustrated p. 339).
G. Weelen, Miró, Paris, 1984, no. 157, p. 117.
J. Dupin & A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné, Paintings, vol. II, 1931-1941, Paris, 2000, no. 618, p. 224 (illustrated).
Exhibited: Basel, Kunsthalle, Joan Miró, March - April 1956, no. 48.
London, Tate Gallery, Joan Miro´, Painting, sculpture and ceramics, August - October 1964, no. 164; this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, October - December 1964.
Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Impactes, Joan Miró 1929-1941, no. 77, p. 127 (illustrated p. 109).
Notes: Miró painted L’Oiseau-nocturne in the village of Varengeville-sur-Mer, Normandy, on the Channel coast, during a sojourn that lasted from mid-August 1939 through late May 1940. He made his first painting there on 22 August (Jeune fille courant, Dupin, no. 614), and completed L’Oiseau-nocturne on the 30th. These canvases marked the beginning of an astonishing sequence of works Miró went on to create in Varengeville, culminating in the first of the celebrated wartime Constellations on 21 January 1940 (Le Lever du soleil; Dupin, no. 628), followed by nine more (Dupin, nos. 629-637) before the artist and his family fled south in late May to avoid air aids and approaching German forces during the invasion of France. 'All the works of this period, inspired directly or indirectly by the place where they were conceived, are of capital importance,' Jacques Dupin declared (J. Dupin, Miró, Paris. 2012, p. 237). He added the assessment of the influential American critic Clement Greenberg, who claimed that during this period Miró’s work 'reached then what I consider to be its greatest height so far' (C. Greenberg, Miró, New York, 1948, p. 27).
Note the date of L’Oiseau-nocturne in this distinguished line of pictures--30 August 1939. Less than forty-eight hours later, in the early morning light of 1 September, the German Luftwaffe bombed military targets in Poland, as mechanized armored units overran that nation’s feeble border defenses. On 3 September Great Britain and France, under treaty with the Polish government, declared war on Germany. It was then not quite twenty-one years after the end of the First World War that a second cataclysmic conflict quickly engulfed Europe.
The ferocity of the German onslaught came as a shock, although Miró and many others knew that such a terrible event was imminent and inevitable. Indeed, 1939 had begun badly for Miró and his Spanish friends -- on 26 January Franco’s fascist legions occupied Barcelona, the last stronghold of the Loyalist republic, bringing the bloody civil war in Spain to its tragic conclusion. The growing momentum toward an all-out European conflict rose to a head on 23 August, when the German and Soviet foreign ministers signed a non-aggression pact, signaling that some momentous military undertaking would soon come to pass. The French government decreed a general mobilization three days later.
Miró’s concerns during this ominous period were primarily two-fold: he sought to engage his creative work in the tumultuous events of the day, while preserving for himself and his work, his wife and daughter some viable measure of safety and well-being. 'The outer world, the world of contemporary events, always has an influence on the painter,' Miró declared in the Cahiers d’Art issue of April-May 1939. 'The horrible tragedy that we are experiencing might produce a few isolated geniuses and give them an increased vigor. If the powers of backwardness known as fascism continue to spread, however, if they push us into the dead end of cruelty and incomprehension, that will be the end of all human dignity… There is no longer an ivory tower. Retreat and isolation are no longer permissible. What counts now in a work of art is…how it implicates lived facts and human truth in its upward movement' (in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 166).
Precautions were also in order, and would soon take precedence over such idealistic pronouncements. Miró, possibly as early as July, had placed his work in storage, and sometime by mid-August relocated himself and his family to Varengeville, where Braque had made his country home. Miró had visited Varengeville the previous summer as a guest of the architect Paul Nelson, for whose home he had executed a trio of mural paintings (Dupin, no. 605). This time he rented a cottage on the Route de l’Eglise called the Clos de Sansonettes. 'I was working very well in this beautiful country, and here we are, now plunged into this nightmare,' he wrote to his New York dealer Pierre Matisse on 25 August, lamenting the inexorable slide towards war (in C. Lanchner, Joan Miró, exh cat., The Museum of Modern Art New York, 1993, p. 334).
Dupin recorded the pictures done prior to the Constellations as comprising two distinct sets, which he classified as Varengeville I and II. L’Oiseau-nocturne belongs to the first group of five small canvases done on what Dupin described as a 'raspberry red' background during August-September. Varengeville II, done in October-November, consists of nine paintings executed directly on raw burlap in larger dimensions than the first set. In these later works Miró practiced an increasingly dense graphism of linear signs, leading directly into the all-over configuration of imagery that characterizes the Constellations. The use of the raw burlap as a ground lends the Varengeville II paintings a darker aspect than the luminously carmine first set, an indication that more troubled thoughts had beset the painter as with each passing week the wartime situation appeared increasingly dire. On 17 September Soviet armies invaded Poland from the east. Crushed on both sides between the two totalitarian powers, with Warsaw suffering under devastating air attacks -- while the Western allies were powerless to help -- the Polish government surrendered on 27 September.
One may characterize the reddish paintings of the Varengeville I set as the calm before the storm, but bearing ominous signs of menace in the offing. A great black bird, with an alarmingly distended phallic appendage, here fills the night sky over the form of a great earth mother. 'The backgrounds are very suggestive: impregnation of red in the first series,' Dupin wrote, '…the colour is very intense: these touches are like sparks in the night' (op. cit., 2012, p. 243). 'Red sky at morning,' the old saying goes, 'shepherd take warning.' If he were gazing eastward, Miró has caught sight of a black sun rising on the horizon, an inauspicious sign. Or if looking westward, the setting black sun, as if burnt out, lightless and cold, may betoken a world destined to become barren and lifeless. Nevertheless, the overall import of the imagery is visionary in a truly cosmic dimension, and so strikingly animated that Miró projects more a sense of profound mystery and wonderment than any inclination toward foreboding and despair.
Indeed, during the first months of the war in France, apart from a few air raids and limited ground incursions, the western front remained relatively quiet, a lull or reprieve that the British and French dubbed 'the phony war.' The French military felt secure in the strength of their Maginot line, a vast network of supposedly impregnable fortresses that faced the Rhine. Varengeville likewise provided for Miró at least a temporary sense of refuge, a 'splendid isolation' from events of the day, in which he could paint. He and his family walked along the Channel beaches at night, reveling in the vast array of stars, constellations and galactic swirls, which he rendered in L’Oiseau-nocturne. 'At Varengeville-sur-Mer, in 1939, I began a new stage in my work which had its source in music and nature,' the artist explained to James Johnson Sweeney in 1948. 'I felt a deep desire to escape. I closed myself within myself purposely. The night, music, and the stars began to play a major role in suggesting my paintings' (M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 209). The image of l’échelle de l’évasion, 'the ladder of escape,' does in fact provide the title for both a Varengeville II painting (Dupin, no. 626), and the second of the Constellations (31 January 1940; Dupin, no. 629).
Because of the war, none of the Varengeville paintings could be included in Miró’s first ever retrospective, which James Johnson Sweeney curated for the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and was viewed November 1941-January 1942. The Constellations, shipped from Barcelona (where, after a spell in Palma, Mallorca, Miró spent most of the rest of the war) were first seen at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, in January-February 1945. Both exhibitions had a major impact on the young American painters who would constitute the pioneering post-war New York School. Concluding his text for the 1941 MoMA retrospective catalogue, Sweeney praised Miró for having 'carried on most consistently those researches which have brought western painting from the austere disciplines of cubism to new forms and new evocations… Miró’s vitality, laughter, naïve lyricism and love of life are, today, auguries of the new painting in a new period which is to come' (Joan Miró, exh. cat., the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1941, p. 78).
Painted in 1943, La Vénus endormie is a deeply absorbing and poetic vision of one of Paul Delvaux’s most celebrated themes, dating from his greatest period (estimate: £1.2-1.6 million). Asleep outdoors in the midst of a vast and impossible classical temple complex, the Venus of the title is the object of veneration and worship. Strange supplicants, like priestesses, surround her, each seemingly oblivious to the others’ presence as they assume their ritualistic positions on the terrace. It is in this disjointedness that Delvaux’s art derives its unique power. Unlike the Surrealists, Delvaux invents relatively little, choosing instead to create a peculiarly otherworldly atmosphere in his paintings by the Romanesque idealisation of his women, their apparent lack of relation on to the other, and their dreamlike existence in a perfectly ordered pseudo-classical architectural landscape. These all combine to conjure up a vision of a world filled with its own, unique haunting poetry.
Paul Delvaux (1897-1994), La Vénus endormie. Estimate £1-1.5 million. © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
signed and dated 'P. Delvaux 10.43' (lower right); oil on canvas; 29 1/8 x 62 1/8 in. (74 x 158 cm.). Painted in October 1943
Provenance: Robert Giron, Brussels, by 1945.
Roger Vanthournout, Belgium, by 1973.
Private Collection, Belgium, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Christie's, London, 21 June 2005, lot 48.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION
Literature: A. Eggermont, 'Les Arts Plastiques' in Le Thyrse, Brussels, 15 February 1945, p. 53.
R. Gaffé, Paul Delvaux ou les rêves éveillés, Brussels, 1945, p. 34 (illustrated pl. 18).
C. Spaak, Paul Delvaux, Antwerp, 1948, no. 11, p. 16 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., XXXVe Salon du Cercle Royal Artistique et Littéraire de Charleroi, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi, 1961 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, Galerie Krugier, Geneva, September - October 1966, illustrated.
P.A. De Bock, Paul Delvaux, L'homme, le peintre, psychologie d'un art, Brussels, 1967, no. 58, p. 292 (illustrated p. 120).
J. Vovelle, Le Surréalisme en Belgique, Brussels, 1972, p. 188 (illustrated).
R. Hammacher, 'Interview avec Paul Delvaux' in Exh. cat., Paul Delvaux, Rotterdam, 1973, pp. 16-17.
'Ausstellungen: Paul Delvaux Tentoonstelling 14 April - 17 June', in Bulletin Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, April 1973, no. 4, p. 26.
P. Sager, 'Paul Delvaux' in Das Kunstwerk, Stuttgart-Berlin-Cologne-Mayence, May 1973, vol. XXVI, no. 3, p. 41.
M. Butor, J. Clair, & S. Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux, Catalogue de l'oeuvre peint, Brussels, 1975, no. 131, pp. 201-202, illustrated p. 202.
B. Emerson, Delvaux, Paris, 1985, p. 118 (illustrated).
M. Rombaut, Paul Delvaux, Barcelona, 1990, no. 46, p. 126 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Delvaux and antiquity, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Andros, 2009 (illustrated p. 12).
Exhibited: Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Rétrospective Delvaux, December 1944 - January 1945, no. 36.
Charleroi, Salle de la Bourse, XXXIe Salon du cercle royal artistique et littéraire de Charleroi: Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, March - April 1957, no. 47.
Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Exposition rétrospective des oeuvres de Paul Delvaux, November - December 1966, no. 18 (illustrated; dated 1944).
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Paul Delvaux, April - June 1973, no. 29, p. 131 (illustrated pp. 67 & 131).
Knokke-Heist, Casino, Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, June - September 1973, no. 23 (illustrated pp. 61 and 125).
Ostend, Museum voor Moderne Kunst, From Ensor to Delvaux, Ensor, Spilliaert, Permeke, Magritte, Delvaux, October 1996 - February 1997, p. 352 (illustrated).
Brussels, Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Paul Delvaux 1897-1994, March - July 1997, no. 52, p. 109 (illustrated).
Himeji, Himeji City Museum of Art, From Ensor to Delvaux, October - April 2001, no. 69 (illustrated pp. 156-157); this exhibition later travelled to Sakura, Sakura City Museum of Art; Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art; Osaka, Daimaru Museum and Okazaki, Okazaki City Museum.
Brussels, Musée d'Ixelles, Paul Delvaux, aux sources de l'œuvre, October 2010 - January 2011, no. 104, illustrated.
Notes: Painted in 1943, La Vénus endormie is a deeply absorbing and poetic vision of one of Delvaux's most celebrated themes, dating from his greatest period. Asleep outdoors in the midst of a vast and impossible classical temple complex, the Venus of the title is the object of veneration and worship. Strange supplicants, like priestesses, surround her, each seemingly oblivious to the others' presence as they assume their ritualistic positions on the terrace. It is in this disjointedness that Delvaux's art derives its unique power. Unlike the Surrealists, Delvaux invents relatively little, choosing instead to create a peculiarly otherworldly atmosphere in his paintings by the Romanesque idealisation of his women, their apparent lack of relation on to the other, and their dreamlike existence in a perfectly ordered pseudo-classical architectural landscape. These all combine to conjure up a vision of a world filled with its own, unique haunting poetry.
Delvaux's art benefited from two great epiphanies, both of which came within the space of a few years of each other. One was his exposure to Surrealism and the art of Giorgio de Chirico. However, by far the greatest influence was the Grand Musée anatomique ethnologique du Dr P. Spitzner. In the midst of a bustling fair, this was a dark and gloomy exhibition of models and curiosities. Skeletons and automatons were crowded within the gloomy confines alongside wax reproductions of diseased organs. Delvaux was struck by Spitzner Museum's gloom in the midst of the fun and frolics of the fair, and he repeatedly insisted that this strange contrast was the original and most influential inspiration for his pictures.
Amongst all the objects on display was the model of a sleeping Venus, much celebrated in the exhibition's cataloguing:
'Reclining Venus, modelled from life. Artistic masterpiece that was awarded two medals at the Vienna Exhibition. The first... for the remarkable progress it achieved in the art of modelling; the second for the ingenious mechanism inside the breast giving the subject the appearance of being alive. This masterpiece surpasses anything that has been done previously and uniquely justifies the use of these three words: ART, SCIENCE, PROGRESS' (Spitzner cataloguing, quoted in Paul Delvaux 1897-1994, exh.cat., Brussels, 1997, p. 17).
Of all the exhibits in the Spitzner Museum, the Venus in particular fascinated Delvaux, and he returned many times to see it again and again. Even before his exposure to Surrealism, he tried to capture its strange qualities in several early pictures. The figure of the Sleeping Venus would recur again and again as the focus of some of his greatest paintings. La Vénus endormie is one of a small group of paintings on the subject that were executed in the early 1940s, the high-point of his art, when he began to consolidate his unique visual poetry. He distilled the juxtapositions of Magritte and the atmosphere of de Chirico, mixing them with his haunting memories of the Spitzner Museum, to create paintings that were striking in their confidence and their discreet novelty. The quality of the works from this rich, early period is reflected in the number of paintings, including several on the same theme as La Vénus endormie, that are in museum collections throughout the world, not least the Tate in London. The quality of these works, and the attention that they gained, was reflected in Delvaux's increasing recognition both in Belgium and internationally. This resulted in his first major retrospective taking place in 1944 in Brussels. The importance of La Vénus endormie is reflected in its inclusion in this retrospective, only the year after it was painted.
Delvaux's treatments of La Vénus endormie as a subject vary hugely, be it in the features of the Venus or in the arrangements and scenery around her. The painting on the same theme in the Tate, for instance, has a markedly oppressive atmosphere of containment, with a skeleton looming in the foreground. However, regardless of these differences, Delvaux was insistent that 'All my Sleeping Venuses originate there... [They are] an exact transcription of the Sleeping Venus of the Spitzner Museum, but with Greek temples or with models - anything you like. It is different, but the understanding is the same' (Delvaux, quoted in Paul Delvaux 1897-1994, exh.cat., Brussels, 1997, p. 18). That the Venus motif derives from his memories of an automaton adds to the eerily ambiguous of the vision before us, Delvaux deliberately introducing the unsettling possibility of the Venus being a simulacrum, sharpening the hallucinatory quality of the image.
Despite their lack of relation the one to the other and their statuesque coolness, Delvaux did not believe that the austerity of his female figures excluded the possibility of his works being erotic. The reclining young woman in La Vénus endormie is prone in her sleep both to the gaze of the viewer, and to whatever menaces might lurk in her world. Nothing is arbitrary in Delvaux's art, and the half-naked figure in this picture is expressly erotic: 'Naturally there is eroticism. Without eroticism I would find painting impossible. The painting of the nude in particular. A nude is erotic even when indifferent, when glacial. What else would it be? The eroticism of my work resides in its evocation of youth and desire' (Delvaux, quoted in Paul Delvaux 1897-1994, exh.cat., Brussels, 1997, p. 23). By deliberately introducing the confusing presence of this eroticism to the cool and rational architecture of La Vénus endormie and the ritualistic positioning of the bystanders, Delvaux reinforces the painting's atmosphere of incongruity and its intense strangeness.
This evocation of a hidden yet epic world hovering just beyond the veil of our vision and understanding is one of the greatest legacies of de Chirico's art in the paintings of Delvaux. While the classical architecture recalls the piazzas and towers of de Chirico's metaphysical masterpieces, it is the strange and potent quality of stimmung that Delvaux mainly gleaned from his predecessor. Delvaux has distilled a new version of the timelessness and stillness of de Chirico's painting to evoke a world that cannot exist within our realm of being. This timelessness, the absence of history and of movement in La Vénus endormie, is all the more pertinent considering the historical backdrop against which La Vénus endormie was painted, with Belgium still under Nazi control. During this time, Delvaux avoided Brussels as much as possible, staying instead in Knokke. Thus the world of the Venus appears to exist parallel to the stressful world of its inception, for despite the alien architecture and the alien rituals at work in that world, it is the flat, shadowless light of off-season Belgian resorts that permeates La Vénus endormie.