Author: Marijke Peyser
The Spanish artist Joan Miró is known above all for his abstract paintings of biomorphic shapes against a fairly plain background, usually in primary colours. However during his career he also worked with ceramics and made prints and sculptures. In the early 1920s he lived for some years in Paris, where he got to know André Masson, Jean (Hans) Arp, Max Ernst, the poet Benjamin Péret and others. Although he exhibited with the Surrealists he was not officially linked to the movement and continued to experiment with other art trends. In the early 1930s, like the Surrealists, he made a number of assemblies of wood and metal as his reaction against dominating aesthetic conventions. Miró called them ‘constructions’. Objet poétique (1936) is such an assemblage, consisting of a stuffed parrot on a wooden perch in a hat, a filled silk stocking in a paper doll’s shoe, a cork ball, a plastic fish and a map. In a letter dated 28 September 1936 he wrote to the New York art dealer Pierre Matisse that objects exerted an irresistible power of attraction on him. He explained that it began with one object and then he added a second object to it. This combination then created a poetic shock.
From 1956 until his death Miró and his wife Pilar Juncosa lived on the island of Majorca, in a house designed by the architect Josep Lluís Sert that also served as a studio. In 1959 Miró bought Son Boter, an eighteenth-century country house nearby, which he made into a second painting and sculpture workshop. In the mid-1960s Miró started to experiment with sculpture again. He worked with everyday discarded things: a piece of iron, a part of an old tractor, cooking utensils, a rusty stove, an alarm clock. In his eyes they were the bearers of unexpected associations and metamorphoses. There were never any sketches as the starting point for these sculptures: ‘I just put the objects together.’ The sculpture Monsieur et madame (1969) consists of a square red stool with a rectangular white shape on it and a round black stool with a yellow egg on it. In his late sculptures Miró did not use the found objects directly but had them cast in bronze and then painted them. This changed their status and gave them an enduring existence. The use of everyday objects executed in bronze is totally opposed to the traditional use of bronze and marble for works of art with lofty subjects or themes. It is a playful, humorous sculpture that has the viewer guessing which stool is the man and which is the woman.
In 1976 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen wanted to acquire a work by Miró, preferably a sculpture because they were still affordable. The museum had been acquiring Surrealist art since 1965 and the lack of a representative work by Miró was seen as a deficiency. On 30 January 1976 the director J.C. Ebbinge Wubben wrote to Galerie Maeght in Paris saying that the advisory committee was impressed by an illustration of Miró’s sculpture Monsieur et madame: ‘Their enthusiasm for this sculpture, in the context of our collection, is so great that they have requested me to ask you if it might be possible to acquire this work.’ The answer from Paris on 6 February was positive.