Joan Miró: The First U.S. Exhibition

The first solo exhibition in the U.S. of the paintings of Joan Miró (1893-1983) took place at the Valentine Gallery from October 20-November 8, 1930. As Valentine Dudensing's Paris-based agent, Pierre Matisse helped organize the show and the twelve canvases, all dated between 1926 and 1929, came from Galerie Pierre in Paris. Pierre Loeb (1897-1964), the gallery's director, first showed Miró's work in 1925 soon after the artist became associated with Surrealism. 

The New York gallery-going public and the critics were not prepared for the works they found at the Valentine Gallery. Lloyd Goodrich, the critic for Arts, found similarities in the paintings to the comic strip character Krazy Kat and declared that the cartoon was "a distant cousin of [Miró]'s inventions." Henry McBride, a leading proponent of contemporary European art, acknowledged that the work was difficult and deemed the artist's "vision and execution startling." Ruth Green Harris of the New York Times wrote: "It is impossible whole-heartedly to carry yourself along with a work of art when you feel unsure whether it is laughing with you or at you or whether it is in a state of tears." Insightfully she concluded that "Certainly these paintings are not merely abstract decorations. The design is superb and the color full of surprising variation."

Dudensing's clientele apparently was not ready for Miró's paintings; none of the works that he exhibited were sold. While nine of the paintings were on loan from Loeb, Dudensing and Matisse had acquired three (nos. 10-12, see below) prior to the exhibition. When their business partnership ended shortly after the exhibition closed, they divided their inventory and Matisse kept Potato and Still Life with Lamp; Dudensing gave Portrait of Mistress Mills to his wife, Bibi. James Thrall Soby spent years trying to convince Bibi to sell him this painting and she finally acquiesced in November 1943. Upon Soby's death in 1979, the painting, along with the rest of his collection, was bequeathed to MoMA.

After he opened his own New York gallery, Pierre Matisse presented several Miró exhibitions during the 1930s. By the time of MoMA's Miró Retrospective in 1941, the artist's work had gained acceptance and Dudensing went on to sell a number of important pieces during the 1940s.

The Miró catalogue raisonné makes no mention of the Valentine Gallery exhibition. Fortunately, Dudensing printed a leaflet that lists the titles and dates of the works that were shown. This information combined with provenance details from the catalogue raisonné resulted in the attempted reconstruction of the gallery's 1930 exhibition as listed below.

1) Paysage au bord de la mer, 1926 (Private Collection)

2) Grand paysage, 1927 (likely Landscape [The Hare]Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum)

3) Grand paysage, 1927 (likely Paysage au coqBeyeler Foundation, Basel, Switzerland)

4) Nu, 1926 (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

5) Queen Louise of Prussia, 1929 (Meadows Museum, Dallas)

6) Portrait de la Fornarina, 1929 (Private Collection)

7) Portrait d'une dame en 1820, 1929 (Private Collection)

8) Interieur Hollandais, 1928 (likely Dutch Interior [I]Museum of Modern Art)

9) Interieur Hollandais, 1928 (likely Dutch Interior [II]Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum)

10) Pommes de terres, 1928 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

11) Nature morte, 1928 [Still Life with Lamp] (Private Collection)

12) Portrait de Mrs Mills en 1750, 1929 (Museum of Modern Art)

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  • Goodrich, "November Exhibitions," Arts (November 1930), 119.

  • McBride, "Exhibitions in New York," Art News (October 25, 1930), 11.

  • Green, New York Times (October 26, 1930), 14X.