LOT 210

1923 - 2002

Sans titre
oil on canvas
signed and on verso signed, dated 1959 on a label, inscribed with the Pierre Matisse stock #St-4139 on the gallery label and variously and stamped Galleria d'Arte Il Mappamondo and Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo 1960
28 3/4 x 39 1/4 in, 73 x 99.7 cm

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

Sold for: $277,250

Preview at:

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Collection Henie-Onstad, Oslo
Tableaux Modernes & Contemporains, Peshetau-Badin & Ferrien, March 24, 1996, lot 102
The Collection of Torben V. Kristiansen, Vancouver

Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 2, 1954 - 1959, 2004, reproduced page 332, catalogue # 1959.063H.1959

Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Sonja Henie / Niels Onstad Collection, November 12 - December 31, 1960, catalogue #102
Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, catalogue #558
Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, Collectors' Treasures: Annual Loan Exhibition, October 19 - November 2, 2019, catalogue #43

Sans titre from 1959 displays the quintessential hallmarks of Jean Paul Riopelle’s work of the late 1950s, a period of profound metamorphosis in which the imprint of his renowned mosaic paintings remained evident and yet the outcome was transformed by a convergence of new influences and sources of inspiration. Chief among these was Riopelle’s relationship with the artist Joan Mitchell, begun in the mid-1950s and coinciding with his experiments with white and the associated investigation of the figure/ground relationship. Throughout this period, he also continued to explore new techniques in the application of paint, thereby interrogating the very act of painting.

In Sans titre, 1959, the paint has been applied thickly with a palette knife, reminiscent of critic Patrick Waldberg’s description of Riopelle’s early mosaics as “sculptures in oil.”[1] By the late 1950s, however, Riopelle is wielding his palette knife differently, dragging it through the thickly applied impasto to create elongated trails rather than articulated mosaic tesserae pushed into the paint from above. Here, layers of horizontal and vertical strokes form a backdrop for the curving, diagonal movement that converges in a vortex at the centre of the composition.

Within the dense texture of the impasto, colours confront one another, collide, fragment and merge. Riopelle limits himself to a primary palette of black, white and red, so that the resulting striations have a geological quality, like layers of rock or precious stones. Riopelle plays with the essential flexibility of white, which at once provides a ground from which the contrasting darker forms emerge and at the same time takes on the properties of the surrounding colours and shades, blending on the canvas to become granite or asphalt, coral or blush. Traces of emerald green and ochre pop against the greyscale, the green not only complementary to the dramatic blood red applied in slashes but also diametrically opposed in mood, its joyful exuberance only briefly glimpsed, like something flickering at the edges of one’s field of vision.

Sans titre, 1959, bears noteworthy provenance, as it was originally sold by the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. Matisse, the youngest son of the modern master Henri Matisse, moved to New York to become an art dealer in 1925 and soon established a towering reputation, introducing artists such as Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró and Yves Tanguy to American audiences. His roster of clients included Walter P. Chrysler Jr., Joseph Hirshhorn, Joseph Pulitzer Jr. and Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Riopelle was first introduced to Matisse in 1953 by their mutual friend Georges Duthuit, a writer and art historian affiliated with Surrealist circles in Paris. Matisse was so impressed with Riopelle’s work that he offered him a solo show at his gallery in New York the following year and purchased the entire exhibition in advance. As Riopelle described it: “When there was I don’t know what economic crisis, and all the art dealers were only reading the stock reports, Pierre Matisse came to me and said: ‘I’ll buy everything.’ Seeing my astonishment, he said: ‘I’m the son of a painter. I have no other profession than that of dealer. If you go down, I’ll go down with you.’ ”[2] Following that auspicious beginning, Matisse became Riopelle’s dealer in New York for over three decades—indeed, the gallery’s final exhibition in 1989, only months before Matisse’s death, was a solo show devoted to Riopelle.

Duthuit remained a close friend of Riopelle throughout his life and became a regular commentator on his work. His deep admiration for Riopelle’s creative genius and commitment to painting is best expressed by his contribution to an exhibition catalogue at the Rive Droite gallery, in the form of an open letter to Riopelle: “Do you, too, not turn yourself inside out like a glove, to pour yourself entirely, exposed and bloody, into your painting, giving to each picture the last minute of your life?”[3]

1. Quoted in François-Marc Gagnon, Jean Paul Riopelle and the Automatiste Movement (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020), 91.

2. Ibid., 156.

3. Quoted in Florence Duchemin-Pelletier, “ ‘So, My Eskimos Come from France’: Riopelle and the Indigenous Arts in Paris,” in Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, ed. Andréanne Roy, Jacques Des Rochers, and Yseult Riopelle (Montreal: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2020), exhibition catalogue, 47.

For the biography on Torben V. Kristiansen in PDF format, please click here.

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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