LOT 041

1923 - 2002

Au bois
oil on canvas, 1969
signed and on verso signed, titled, inscribed "Au bois"/ "10.405" / "73" on the partial Galerie Maeght label and variously and stamped Lucien Lefebvre Foinet Paris
39 3/8 x 28 3/4 in, 100 x 73 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $200,000 CAD

Sold for: $181,250

Preview at:

Galerie Maeght, Paris
Galleria Arte Borgogna, Milan
Contemporary Art, Christie's London, April 5, 1990, lot 546
Important Modern Paintings & Sculptures, Perrin-Royère-Lajeunesse, Versailles, June 24, 1990, lot 15
Tableaux modernes et contemporains sculptures, Loiseau, Schmitz, Digard, Saint-Germaine-en-Laye, France, June 19, 1994, lot 30
A Prominent European Private Collection

Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 4, 1966 - 1971, 2014, reproduced page 183, catalogue #1969.009H.1969

Galerie Torminelli, Paris, Foire internationale d'art contemporain (FIAC) 88, March 9 - 14, 1988

For me, his art is that of a superior trapper. Traps both for the animals of the burrows and for those of the clouds, as [the Symbolist poet] Germain Nouveau said. What I find useful about the notion of a trap, which I like somewhat, is that they are also traps for traps. Once these traps are trapped, a high degree of freedom is achieved.

—André Breton[1]

Ever since Jean Paul Riopelle established himself in Paris in the late 1940s, his Canadian-ness was a key part of his identity and reputation. The Surrealist poet and writer André Breton nicknamed him the trappeur supérieur, an accurate moniker that was long attached to him. He was known to be an active hunter and fisher, with a sincere appreciation for nature. Riopelle loved traveling to remote and rugged locales, such as Pangnirtung in Nunavut or the Pyrenees, or sailing the Mediterranean Sea aboard his sailboat the Sérica.

As was brilliantly demonstrated in the exhibition Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2020, the landscape is a recurring motif in the artist’s oeuvre. His empirical knowledge of a territory—Canadian or otherwise—is a boundless source of inspiration, especially in his production dating from the late sixties through the seventies.

In 1967, Joan Mitchell, Riopelle’s then partner, purchased La Tour, a house with a large garden overlooking the Seine in Vétheuil, a village about 60 kilometres north of Paris where Claude Monet had worked and painted a great number of his Impressionist masterpieces. This new home in the countryside was a relief from the hustle and bustle of the city for both artists. Later, in 1969, Riopelle set up a new studio in a garage he rented in Saint-Cyr-en-Arthies. He also came back more and more frequently to Quebec, on various hunting trips, or to his studio in the Laurentians.

Au bois, an oil on canvas dated 1969, is quintessential of his works from the late 1960s and showcases all their typical characteristics. Riopelle puts on display the full range of his gestures across the entire surface of the canvas, using an earthy colour palette. Various shades of brown, ochre, white, black and emerald green are contrasted with touches of deep blue and bright red.

The composition is divided into large expanses of colour, with an abundance of luminous whites and greys. In these zones of colour, Riopelle finds freedom to explore the rich chromatic variations of the paints mixing unpredictably under his palette knife. Energetic and elongated black calligraphic lines add movement and drama to the composition. He drags and scrapes the palette knife through thick layers of paint, creating his signature peaks, valleys and swirls of matter. The result is a richly textured and expressive topography.

When asked if his paintings were “abstract landscapes,” Riopelle replied that they were “mental landscapes” instead.[2] Riopelle reimagined and reinterpreted nature in his works rather than directly depicting it, and Au bois is an invitation to be in communion with an expressive and painterly abstract embodiment of nature.

1. Translation from François-Marc Gagnon, Jean Paul Riopelle: Life & Work (Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2019). Original source: André Breton, Elisa Breton, and Benjamin Péret, “Aparté entre Elisa, André Breton et Benjamin Péret,” manuscript and typescript, February 1949, Paris.

2. Quoted in Guy Robert, Riopelle, chasseur d’images (Montreal: Éditions France-Amérique, 1981), 181.

Estimate: $150,000 - $200,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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