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1925 - 1992
Joan Mitchell is one the most influential figures of the second generation of American Abstract Expressionists, and one of its few women painters to gain recognition and critical acclaim. She was born in 1925 in Chicago to a wealthy industrial family. Her father, James Herbert Mitchell, was a well-known dermatologist and her mother, Marion Strobel Mitchell, was a poet.
As a child, Mitchell attended the Art Institute of Chicago’s Saturday art classes, and while a teen, she spent summers at Ox-Bow, its art colony. Later, she studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, obtaining her BFA in 1947 and her MFA in 1950. Between her two diplomas, she was awarded the James Nelson Raymond Foreign Travelling Fellowship, which enabled her to go to France from 1948 to 1949.
Following her studies, she moved to New York at the time the New York School was introducing a new vibrant art scene to the city. Already her works showcased a raw energy and an unrestrained use of colour - each brush-stroke was infused with a palpable tension. These early pieces captured the attention of fellow artists Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and critic Hans Hofmann, who brought her into the fold. In 1951, she was included in the seminal Ninth Street Show, alongside Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Hans Hofmann, with whom she frequented the Cedar Street Tavern.
In 1955, Mitchell started dividing her time between New York and Paris, before establishing herself permanently in France in 1959. There she joined the circles of artists Pierre Soulages, Georges Mathieu and Jean Paul Riopelle, with whom she had a relationship until 1979. While retaining the gestural boldness and individuality of the New York School, her works began to open up and take inspiration from the European Post-Impressionists’ use of colour. She would cover the surface of her canvases with long, lashing brush-strokes in vivid colour, creating seminally effortless yet complex compositions. Starting in the late 1950s, Mitchell was exhibiting internationally, in New York, Paris, Bern, Milan, Munich, Venice, São Paulo and Osaka.
In 1967, she purchased La Tour, a property with a large house overlooking the Seine in the small town of Vétheuil located near Giverny, where Claude Monet lived. Trading the city for the countryside, Mitchell found inspiration in the landscape surrounding her, as demonstrated by works such as Mon paysage (1967). Works from this period have vibrant colour palettes and richly impastoed surfaces. Thanks to her new spacious studio, she was also able to work on a much bigger scale, creating large polyptychs that enveloped the viewer.
Her biographer Patricia Albers wrote: “Everything about these luscious chromatic canvases speaks of the artist’s all-consuming lover’s quarrel with oils. Paint meets canvas in every conceivable manner: slathered, swiped, dry-brushed, splattered, dribbled, wiped with rags into filminess, smeared with fingers, slapped from a brush, smashed from the tube, affixed with a wad of gum – a glorious visual glossolalia.” 
Mitchell was also very dedicated to the mentoring of young artists, who she often housed for various periods of time at Vétheuil. Her generosity and devotion was continued even after her passing. The Joan Mitchell Foundation was established in 1993, one year following her death. The Foundation awards grants and stipends to artists, and sponsors the Artist-in-Residence Program at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans.
1. Patricia Albers, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, 2011, pages 286 and 287
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13 x 27 1/4 in 33 x 69.2 cm
oil on canvas triptych
Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000 CDN
CDN (premium included)
Post-War & Contemporary Art on Wednesday, July 15, 2020
22 x 17 in 55.9 x 43.2 cm
oil on canvas
Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000 CDN
CDN (premium included)
Post-War & Contemporary Art on Wednesday, November 20, 2019