Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jill Krementz covers Miró at the Met

Miró: The Dutch Interiors

Metropolitan Museum
October 5, 2010-January 17, 2011

Postcard of "The Lute Player"
Color lithograph
Miró pinned this postcard to his easel while painting Dutch Interior (I).
In the spring of 1928, the Catalan painter Joan Miró (1893-1983) visited the Netherlands. While there, he purchased postcards from the museums he visited.

Two of these cards depicting 17th-century Dutch genre scenes particularly caught his attention and served as inspiration for a series of paintings he created that summer.

Miró was clearly inspired by many of the Dutch masters as evidenced in this exhibition curated by Gary Tinterow. The installation highlights Miró's three “Dutch Interiors" and the Old Master paintings on which they are based. Also included are preparatory drawings and additional paintings by Miró in the Met's collection.

Although there is a long history of artists who sought inspiration in the work of other artists, this encounter between one of the most esteemed avant-garde artists of the 20th century and the Dutch masters is both unexpected and rare.

You'll have fun seeing how Miró moved from representational sources to his own language. And you'll probably have a lot more fun in the future buying postcards.
Gary Tinterow, Chairman of the Metropolitan's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, who curated the exhibition.
Press preview for Miró. Entrance to the exhibition.
Installation photograph of Miró Exhibition.
Enlarged posters show similarities between Dutch Masters and Miro's paintings.
Hendrick Sorgh
Dutch, 1609/11–1670
The Lute Player, 1661
Oil on panel

Hendrick Sorgh, a student of David Teniers the Younger, was born in Rotterdam. A specialist in kitchen and genre scenes, Sorgh was a successful though minor master; this painting was by no means the most famous of those Miró saw at the great picture galleries in The Hague and Amsterdam. Miró’s fascination must instead have been with the particularities of this work—the interior and exterior views, the still life on the table, the amorous couple with animals at their feet; it is as if Sorgh wanted to demonstrate his mastery of every genre, from portraiture to landscape and still life. Pinning a postcard to his easel, Miró used this composition as the basis for the first of his Dutch Interiors. It is the most literal and explicit of the three.
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Dutch Interior (I), Summer 1928
Oil on canvas
Inscribed (on reverse): Joan Miró / “Intérieur hollandais” / 1928

Miró modeled this composition, the first and most elaborate of the three Dutch Interiors, on Hendrick Sorgh’s The Lute Player. In all the preparatory sketches and in the painting, Miró focused his attention on the lute player and his phallic instrument. His companion, the listening woman, has been reduced to a curlicue shape with a knob for a head and a shoe at the other end. The biomorphic forms and flat, unmodulated colors resemble those in reliefs by Hans Arp, Miró’s friend and neighbor in Paris. Miró delighted in the panoply of observed details in Sorgh’s painting and was careful to include all the significant ones as well as to
improvise a few of his own, such as the flying bat at the right.
Joan Miró
Final Study for Dutch Interior (I), Summer 1928
Charcoal and graphite on paper
Joan Miró
Final Study for Dutch Interior (II), Summer 1928
Charcoal and graphite pencil on paper
Left: Egle Cygas, a Met museum press officer on this exhibition. Ms. Cygas's red stockings are not accidental.

Above: James Gardner, an art critic for The Wall Street Journal.
The Catalan painter was clearly inspired by his trip to the Netherlands.
Jan Steen
Dutch, 1626–1679
Children Teaching a Cat to Dance, ca. 1665–68
Oil on panel

Like Rembrandt, Jan Steen was born in Leiden. The son of a wealthy tavern keeper, and brewer, he was apprenticed to Nicolaes Knupfer and later worked for Jan van Goyen, whose daughter he married. A prolific and successful painter, Steen became famous for his rambunctious family scenes. In Dutch, a disorderly house is now called a “Jan Steen household.” This picture is one of his best known. With a mordant touch, Steen exposed the cruelty of childish play while leaving several hints of eroticism, such as the young woman’s red stockings and splayed legs. Even the subject, teaching a cat to dance, may be understood as a sexual metaphor.
Perhaps because the erotic overtones were so explicit, Miró chose instead to redirect the focus of the picture in his free interpretation, the Dutch Interior (II). There, the cat is reduced to a small geometric figure, the young woman in blue has been minimized, and the mischievous boys and barking dog assume greater importance.
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Dutch Interior (II),
Summer 1928
Oil on canvas

For this work, based on Jan Steen’s Children Teaching a Cat to Dance, Miró chose a canvas identical to Dutch Interior (I), based on a painting by Hendrick Sorgh. The dimensions and proportions of the Sorgh and the Steen differ, but the postcards that Miró consulted masked the differences. Miró remained close to his original conception for this picture, studying details in preparatory drawings—the dog, dancing cat, girl playing a shawm, and kitchen utensils—that he transferred to his final study before painting this canvas. Although the principal motifs of Steen’s picture are present and legible, Miró transformed everything with his own style and sensibility, which he called “tragicomic.” In so doing, he diverted attention away from the cat and the girl toward the barking dog and the giant face of the mischievous child.
Jan Steen
Dutch, 1626–1679
Woman at Her Toilet, ca. 1661–65
Oil on panel

Miró could not have seen this painting during his visit to Amsterdam in 1928 because it did not enter the Rijksmuseum’s collection until 1961. It had, however, been reproduced in books on Steen that Miró may have consulted, and it appeared in a color supplement published in The Hague some six months before Miró arrived. Although Miró stated in the 1960s that Dutch Interior (III) “does not relate to any single picture,” art historians in the 1990s noticed the striking similarity of this Steen to the third Interior. Miró certainly would have been attracted to the erotic suggestions of Steen’s picture (the impression on the woman’s leg shows that she is undressing rather than dressing), and specific details—the discarded shoes on the floor, the dog at the right, and the flagrant red stocking (worn by prostitutes in the seventeenth century)—may be found in Miró’s painting.
Even if Miró had not known this composition by Steen, by the time he painted his third Dutch Interior he had become sufficiently conversant with the subjects and strategies of the Dutch genre painters to convincingly extrapolate in their mode.
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Dutch Interior (III), Summer 1928
Oil on canvas

In 1965 Miró explained, “Dutch Interior (III) does not relate to any single picture, being a sort of resumé of the ones in this series.” Indeed, several motifs, such as the baluster at the middle left, the shoes at the bottom left, and the flying dog and arrow at the upper right, can be traced to Dutch Interior (I) and Dutch Interior (II). The blue square at the upper left may recall the canal view in Dutch Interior (I), while the small black square at the upper right may be a vestige of the window in Dutch Interior (II). To confuse matters, in a preparatory drawing, Miró identified the baluster as a corkscrew. Nevertheless, in the 1990s art historians noted a resemblance to Jan Steen’s Woman at Her Toilet (above).
Although Miró could not have seen the painting in the Netherlands (it was then in a private collection in Switzerland), he may have seen a reproduction of it. Similarities such as the shoes, the dog, and the flagrant red stocking are striking. Miró held this work in high esteem. When the distinguished collector René Gaffé bought it in July 1929, the artist wrote: “I am very happy the Interior belongs to you. . . . You cannot imagine the drama the painting of that canvas represents for me, a canvas that has an enormous value as a struggle, a human struggle in my career.”
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Photo: This Is the Color of My Dreams, 1925
Oil on canvas

When asked about this painting, Miró responded, “I started with the idea of a photo—I don’t remember at all what photo it was. I did neither a collage nor a reproduction of it. I simply painted the word photo. This was more in line with Picabia than Breton.” Here, he invokes works such as Francis Picabia’s Sainte Vierge of 1920, in which a huge ink blot is offered as the Holy Virgin, in opposition to the free association encouraged by the Surrealist writer André Breton.

Nevertheless, the second inscription, “This is the color of my dreams,” in which the idea of “blue” is represented as a patch of paint, does conform to the Surrealist insistence on the primacy of dreams. Miró later explained, “How did I think up my drawings and my ideas for painting? Well, I’d come home to my Paris studio in the rue Blomet at night, I’d go to bed, and sometimes I hadn’t any supper. I saw things, and I jotted them down in a notebook. I saw shapes on the ceiling. . . .”

The freedom and elegance of Miró’s peintures-poésies, or poetry paintings, continue to astonish today; they encourage the viewer to question perception and the relationship of images and words to ideas and emotions—a major concern of Conceptual art nearly a century later. Miró recalled that such paintings won him favor with the Surrealists: “They ignored my existence until my painting freed itself in the direction of poetry and dreams.”
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Painting, 1927
Tempera and oil on canvas

Miró was extraordinarily prolific in 1927. In contrast to the small number of pictures he completed in 1928, his output in 1927 varied greatly in scale, materials, and technique—from meticulously finished paintings, large and small, to seemingly spontaneous works such as this canvas. Yet even Miró’s simplest compositions were preceded by sketches—proof that nothing was left to chance: though his studio adjoined that of the arch-Surrealist André Masson, Miró did not adhere to the Surrealist tenet of automatism. This work was likely included in the spring 1928 exhibition organized by Miró’s dealer Pierre Loeb. Even though nearly everything on view sold, Loeb kept a handful of pictures for himself. Hoping to tempt, he gave this one to Pierre Matisse, the young art dealer and son of the painter Henri Matisse. Although Matisse recalled that at first he did not understand the work and had put it away in a closet, after a second look he was enchanted: “It was a revelation. Life was bursting out everywhere.” Matisse became Miró’s representative in the United States.
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Animated Landscape, 1927
Oil on canvas

This work is one of six canvases of identical size that Miró painted at his family farm in Montroig, near Barcelona, in summer 1927. The composition has defied analysis: while individual forms have been identified—the moon, the plant, a bird, a dragon-like creature—there is disagreement on whether it depicts a landscape, a room with a landscape seen through a window, or various pictures within a picture.

Miró described the painting to his dealer Pierre Loeb: "The one I told you about and where there are many things—leaves, the moon, a bird, an animal, and other things neither you nor I know what they stand for but which have, alas, become a sight more real than the filth so many excrement eaters come up with and which I am told are in fashion. I consider this canvas to be one of my best in several years. It is odd because, little by little, I am regressing in the best sense of the word."

Like Circus Horse, this painting probably was included in Miró’s exhibition in Paris in spring 1928, just before his trip to the Netherlands.
Detail of Animated Landscape, 1927.
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
The Potato, Autumn 1928
Oil on canvas

Miró conceived five paintings during his stay at the family farm in Montroig, near Barcelona, in summer 1928: the three Dutch Interiors, Still Life with a Lamp (private collection), and The Potato. The Potato, with its biomorphic forms and flat fields of color, closely resembles the Dutch Interiors, though he was still working on it in November. A large female figure addresses the viewer, her swollen left hand tattooed with Miró’s monogram, her right hand shriveled and small; insectlike creatures flutter about her head, and her eye has been replaced with a potato-like form. Her vagina is held aloft by a standard at the right, as if it were a coat of arms identifying the subject of a state portrait. Although Miró gave the painting its title in French, Pomme de Terre, he may have been thinking of the salacious expression in Spanish “que patata.”
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Collage, Summer 1929
Graphite, Conté crayon, gouache, pastel, tar paper, flocked paper, and
paper on flocked paper

At first glance very different from the riot of forms that Miró packed into his Dutch Interiors, this picture is, in fact, closely related to the series. Having completed the three Dutch Interiors in summer 1928 and the group of pictures based on Old Master portraits, such as Mistress Mills, in early 1929, Miró embarked on a new set of collages, spare and almost monochrome. This work may be one of the first of the collages. Miró based the composition on the year-old preparatory drawing for Dutch Interior (I) in the preceding gallery: at the upper left is the crossed-leg lute player from the painting by Sorgh; at the right, the form shaped like the letter B is derived from Sorgh’s listening woman. Miró said, “When I finish a work, I see in it the starting point for another work. But nothing more than a starting point to go in a diametrically opposite direction.”
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Portrait of Mistress Mills in 1750, Winter–Spring 1929
Oil on canvas

Having completed the Dutch Interiors in summer and autumn 1928, Miró turned again to the Old Masters for inspiration for his next series of pictures. Back in Paris during winter 1928–29, he was ready for the “second . . . stage of attack.” He painted four Imaginary Portraits based on historical prototypes. This one depicts an English actress, Mrs. Isabella Mills, who was portrayed in an extravagant hat by George Engleheart in 1780—not, as Miró thought, in 1750. Miró probably consulted the color mezzotint that was published in 1786.
Joan Miró
Spanish, 1893–1983
Circus Horse, 1927
Tempera on canvas

This work belongs to a series of paintings of circus themes made in Paris in April and May 1927. Coming at the end of Miró’s three-year campaign of dream paintings, or peintures-poésies, it is remarkable for its concision and simplicity. Alberto Giacometti recalled his surprise at paintings “more aerial, more disengaged, lighter than anything I had ever seen.” While some writers have suggested that Miró may have been prompted by seeing Alexander Calder’s miniature circus (now at the Whitney Museum of American Art) at Calder’s Paris studio, he had, in fact, already depicted a toy hobbyhorse in a picture of 1920. Miró almost certainly included this canvas in his highly successful exhibition held in Paris in May 1928, just before he left for Holland. An influential critic, Waldemar George, wrote of Miró’s “bare surfaces covered with a uniform color and scattered hieroglyphics,” creating the suggestion of “the void or the infinite.”
Nykia Omphroy, assistant to Gary Tinterow. Ms. Omphroy is standing just outside the entrance to the Miró exhibition. Ludo van Halem with Gary Tinterow. Mr. van Halem is the Curator of the 20th Century Fine Arts Department at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where the Miró show was installed prior to coming to the Met.
Naomi Takafuchi, Press Associate. Richard Armstrong, Director of the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim lent many pieces to the exhibition.
Bill and Donna Acquavella with Alessandra Carnielli, who runs the Tana and Pierre Matisse Foundation.
Morris Zuckerman (eminent collector), Wim Pijbes (Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam) , and Walter Liedtke (Curator of Met's Department of European Paintings). Mr. Liedtke described Mr. Zuckerman as "a friend of my department with a capital F."

The Gift Shop
Sheila Metcalf in the Met's Gift Shop which you can visit as you exit the exhibition.
Miró Terre de Grand Feu square plates; small ones, $15; larger ones, $20.
Square plates and round mugs.
Miró note cards.
Miró jigsaw puzzle. A Miró scarf, framed poster, pencils, and other items.
Miró paraphernalia.
Miró glasses.
More Miró glasses.

Gary Tinterow in his office
Gary Tinterow in his office at the Met. Mr. Tinterow has another desk (where he works) but prefers to be photographed at this one which is much neater and where we can see his Andy Warhol.
The standing floor lamp in Mr. Tinterow's office. Asked if it was a Noguchi, Mr. Tinterow replied: "It's an Ikea knockoff."
View of Central Park from Gary Tinterow's office. On the wall is an Ellsworth Kelly painting.
Miró book on Tinterow's desk.

As many of you know, Mr. Tinterow has curated wonderful shows at the Met of Francis Bacon and Picasso, among others, so I was curious if Miró was one of his favorite artists. "He is now," Mr. Tinterow said with a laugh as he rushed off to a meeting.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz
all rights reserved.