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LOT 042

1923 - 2002

oil on canvas
signed and on verso titled, dated 1962 and, inscribed "expo no. 15" / "A.375" on a label / "63024" on another label / "D-3" / "L" (circled) and stamped twice indistinctly
38 1/4 x 51 in 97.2 x 129.5 cm

Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000

Sold for: $325,250

Preview at: Heffel Calgary

Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris
Galerie Bonnier, Lausanne
Galerie Claude Lafitte, Montreal, July 2002
Sold sale of Contemporary Art, Sotheby's London, February 7, 2003, lot 231
A Prominent European Private Collection

Jean Louis Prat, Gilles Vigneault et al., Jean Paul Riopelle, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1991, quoting Herta Wescher, page 34
Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 1, 1939 - 1954, 1999, quoting the artist, page 42
Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 3, 1960 - 1965, 2009, quoting Monique Brunet-Wienmann and Robert Keane pages 23 and 26, reproduced page 178, catalogue #1962.070H.1962

While Jean Paul Riopelle’s distinct approach to paint has been a key part of his modus operandi throughout his entire career, it was especially relevant to his production from 1960 to 1965. His compositions grew larger, more ambitious and spacious than his dense all-over compositions from the 1950s. The slender strokes of the palette knife, typical of his mosaic period, also became elongated and looser. Art historian Herta Wescher wrote at the time, “The dense mosaics characteristic of his paintings of ten years ago have been broken up, allowing space to enter from all sides. Now, order and chaos intermingle, diagonals, curves and sharp hooks attach the verticals, voids are trapped at the heart of incredibly crowded centers.”

Executed in 1962, Bivouac is an outstanding example of Riopelle’s bolder, more gestural works. At this time, he worked on a few large-format paintings, leading to his major Point de Rencontre (1963), a commission for Toronto’s Malton Airport, now Pearson International Airport. Bivouac’s pictorial space is organized, yet the gesture remains intuitive and unrestrained. While being opulent and lush, its composition breathes. Here, Riopelle rakes through layers of paint with his spatula, sculpting the coloured matter onto the canvas. In a series of ample movements, Riopelle drags the thin metal blade through whites, greys, blacks and browns, encircling the work in a frame-like arrangement. The central coloured mass is detached from its outer edges and hovers at its centre, as Riopelle moves away from his earlier all-over compositions. This effectively reintroduces “the figure-ground duality that the 1950s ‘all over’ had ousted,” according to art historian Monique Brunet-Weinmann.

This bustling canvas is intensely dynamic and rich, with saturated hues glistening in a vibrant kaleidoscope. At the heart of the composition, crimson, maroon, green, cobalt, yellow, brown, black and purple are slashed and swept in rhythmical swathes. Black calligraphic strokes encase the coloured mass in its right, bottom and left edges. Throughout Bivouac, small touches of bright blue, yellow and purple are revealed under layers of thick impastos and punctuate the composition. The resulting explosion of colour radiates and leads the eye across the painting’s surface in a hypnotic dance—a dance we can almost imagine the artist himself participating in, as he swabs and slathers his paints in energetic movements.

Riopelle’s approach to paint was sensuous and rooted in its very materiality. Brunet-Weinmann goes as far as saying that he painted the way he sculpted, working the paint with his hands. Robert Keane, the owner of Riopelle’s Long Island studio, offers a rare account of the artist’s methods. Loading the surface of the work with paint, he would then work his knife through it, mixing his colours directly on the canvas. “He would hold all the tubes [with their heads lopped off], three or four maybe, or as many as he could fit in his hand, in his fist, and empty them directly onto the canvas...He was very deft, constantly going back and forth between the cluster of colours and his knife.”

The title of this work, Bivouac, translates to an improvised encampment for either hiking, camping or military use. This calls attention to Riopelle’s connection to the outdoors. Indeed, he was known as an enthusiastic fisher and hunter, and his relation to nature earned him his nickname “le trappeur supérieur” in André Breton’s circle. While his abstract compositions evoke the woodlands and landscapes of his native Canada, explicit references to nature appear in his later works with various flora and fauna. Riopelle sought to embody nature in his work, as he explains: “My paintings that are considered the most abstract are, in my opinion, the most representational in the strictest sense of the term. Abstract: ‘abstraction,’ ‘taken from,’ ‘to bring from’…..I work the other way round. I do not take from Nature, I move toward Nature.”

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is holding the exhibition Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures from November 21, 2020 – March 21, 2021, which will travel in 2021 to 2022 to the Audain Art Museum, Whistler and the Glenbow Museum, Calgary.

Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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