Spanish painter Joan Miró was already an international superstar when he visited the US in 1947, and not surprisingly, the enthusiasm for his work was particularly fevered in New York. Miró’s two “Constellation” series shows organized by dealer Pierre Matisse here in 1945 were a huge success, and the artist was subsequently working on a major public commission in Cincinnati, a mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel. But Miró was finding all the attention overwhelming. “Well, here in New York, I cannot lead the life I want to,” he told an interviewer early that year. “There are too many appointments, too many people to see and with so much going on I become too tired to paint.” Nonetheless, he eventually hit his stride in the city, limiting his social circle to a small group of artistic companions and associates. Miró also found time to work in the studio he had set up with the help of Matisse and others.
Among those who Miró allowed into his circle at the time were photographer and filmmaker Thomas Bouchard and his daughter Diane, who assisted her father in his West 40th street and Chelsea Hotel studios. Bouchard, who had extensive experience photographing dancers and was credited with widening the audience for modern dance in the 1930s, had a solo exhibition of his photographs at the Brooklyn Museum in 1936–37. He filmed Miró for a project entitled “Around and About Joan Miró” including documenting the artist creating one of his paintings. Miró dedicated this work to Diane with an inscription that read: “to Diane Bouchard, with all my love.”
Not only is the video a fascinating artifact in its own right, it also serves as instant indisputable evidence that Miró created the work. According to the Sotheby’s catalogue, the authenticity of the work has been confirmed by A.D.O.M., the seven-member Association pour la Défense de l’œuvre de Joan Miró.
The painting, along with two others Miró gave to Bouchard, languished in a vault in New York for decades. That is until Sotheby’s senior vice president Elizabeth Gorayeb got a call from an estate representative following Diane Boucher’s death in March of 2013. Gorayeb says the representative knew there were works in the vault by artists Thomas Bouchard had filmed (he also shot Fernand Léger wandering through the New York and New Hampshire countryside gathering materials and ideas for his canvases), but didn’t know exactly what the works were. He “was unsure what we would be seeing, and did not have a sense of the value of these works,” recounts Gorayeb. Miró’s Untitled, 1947, painted on a rich blue background that “characterizes his most acclaimed works of this era,” according to the catalogue, was nothing short of a revelation.
Gorayeb told artnet News: “My reaction was excitement, and initially, bewilderment. How could something this important be hidden away for so long?” The colorful anthropomorphic forms of the paintings are closely related to those seen in the mural he executed for the Cincinnati project that same year. The mural itself now hangs in the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Sotheby’s has estimated Boucher’s painting at $4 to $6 million, but given its storied past, it could incite some heavy competition when it goes on the block at the evening sale of Impressionist and modern art in New York. Of course, many curious art lovers will now be wondering what other masterpieces the vault visit uncovered. Could there be Leger lingering about? Sotheby’s won’t say.
Sotheby’s will be offering two additional works from Diane Bouchard’s estate at its day sale of Impressionist and modern art on May 8. These include another untitled oil on canvas, dated 1946, and also dedicated to Diane, with an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000, and a unique work, Serie II:One Plate (1947) an etching with hand coloring, inscribed to Bouchard, estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.
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