LOT 006

1923 - 2002

oil on canvas, circa 1955
16 x 13 in, 40.6 x 33 cm

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

Sold for: $289,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Laing Galleries, Toronto
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, Florida, May 15, 1968
By descent to an Important Private Collection, California

François-Marc Gagnon, "Imprint and Invisibility," Jean Paul Riopelle and the Automatiste Movement, 2020, pages 106 and 115

When thinking of Jean Paul Riopelle’s works, the image of a large-scale canvas or perhaps even a mural often comes to mind. His larger works are iconic, for example, L’hommage à Rosa Luxemburg (1992, collection of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec). However, Riopelle could easily switch from large to smaller scales, without sacrificing his signature intensity. In fact, his smaller pieces are rather exquisite. Due to the inherent glossiness of some of the pigments he used, they shimmer, like jewels. Handled with the same bravado as Riopelle’s larger canvases, Composition, circa 1955, packs an incredible punch.

This oil on canvas also shares the same typically heavily impastoed surface as other works from the same period. Riopelle truly sculpted his paint across the surface of the canvas, by spurting it straight from the tube and manipulating it with his spatula. Wanting to expand from his small squares of colours, Riopelle used a larger spatula in the early 1950s. He even had some spatulas custom made; these appear in photographs taken by Denise Colomb in 1953. From that moment on, his patches of colour no longer had the same shape. Rather, as the late François-Marc Gagnon explains, “They were more like imprints of the spatula blade than simple small coloured squares applied onto the canvas. We recognize the form of the spatula, as if Riopelle wanted to leave an imprint of his instrument with each application.”

To achieve this effect, Riopelle had to push into the pigment, instead of wiping it. This is especially evident here in Composition’s swabs of almost solid white, olive, black and red. In the areas of mint green, maroon and crimson, where colours mix and melt into each other, Riopelle has dragged his blade through the pigment. Gagnon commented, “It is important to note that at that moment, the spatula’s blade hides what is going on beneath it. And thus an instant of invisibility is introduced into the very act of painting.” In these areas, small touches of navy, yellow and lavender appear in transparency, and punctuate the work beautifully. These chromatic surprises are not unusual with Riopelle. The end result – the final colour arrangement—is unpredictable. Chance becomes an important factor in his production, which distinguishes Riopelle from the other Automatists.

The surface of Composition is dense with tesserae-like strokes of pigment going in every direction: horizontal, vertical and diagonal. The resulting composition is full of movement and punctuated deftly by touches of luminous white. Composition is also reminiscent of another of Riopelle’s smaller canvases, dated 1956, Neige d’automne (sold by Heffel in November 2019). These two works used the same colour palette of white, black, red and green, and create the impression of falling movement from the top to the bottom of the painting. Both works showcase the artist’s delicate understanding of colour, harmony and balance.

Composition was created during a significant time in Riopelle’s illustrious career. During the mid-1950s, he consolidated his status of being Canada’s most international artist. In 1955, he had a solo exhibition at Galerie Jacques Dubourg, in Paris; received an Honorable Mention at the Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil; and traveled to the United States for his second New York show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. That same year, he also met the American Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell, with whom he shared a relationship from 1955 to 1979. Mitchell and Riopelle greatly influenced each other’s works and artistic careers.

Composition, a gem of a painting, is full of exuberance and vitality, and, like Riopelle’s larger works, it contains a magnetic power.

This work is included as an addendum to Volume 2, 1954 – 1959 in Yseult Riopelle’s online catalogue raisonné on the artist’s work at http://www.riopelle.ca.

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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