LOT 020

1923 - 2002

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1966 and on verso signed, titled, dated and inscribed "Monsieur Zumsteg" and "CLLF 10190"
44 7/8 x 63 3/4 in, 114 x 162 cm

Estimate: $500,000 - $700,000 CAD

Sold for: $450,000

Preview at:

Galerie Maeght, Paris
G. Zumsteg, Zurich
Sold sale of Contemporary Art, Christie's London, June 30, 1994, lot 35
A Prominent European Private Collection
Sold sale of Post-War & Contemporary Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, lot 20
Private Collection, Vancouver

Derrière le miroir no. 160, Galerie Maeght, 1966
Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 4, 1966 – 1971, 2014, reproduced page 103, catalogue #1966.041H.1966

Galerie Maeght, Paris, Derrière le miroir, June 9 – August 6, 1966, catalogue #8
Kunsthaus Zurich, Riopelle

Jean Paul Riopelle, in a 1972 statement accompanying his exhibition at the Galerie Maeght, in Paris, addressed the notion that his paintings were abstracted landscapes: “I am not a painter of virgin forests or infinite prairies…a leaf of a tree, that’s enough,” he said. He was, he continued, “trying to understand what nature is, departing not from the destruction of nature, but rather toward the world.”[1] That impulse of moving towards the world, rather than stepping back to represent some aspect of it, is central to the visual and emotive impact of Riopelle’s work. Even when, in his late career, he worked more or less representationally, he was never interested in depicting specific places or things, but rather strove to evoke them.

Velouté was made at a particularly important time in Riopelle’s remarkable career. The mid-’60s have been identified by numerous critics and scholars as the point at which his work evinced a “return to representation.”[2] Velouté, of course, is not representative. It does not depict specific things, but in its velvety, swirling masses one can feel as if one is seeing something familiar: tree branches with last year’s leaves, snow patches on mossy ground and meltwater amidst them, dappled sunlight, the red of denuded dogwood bushes. Riopelle transports us into the world he creates, not by telling us what it looked like, but by showing us how it feels. “Rather than imitate nature as so many artists had done before him, he wished to draw from it and create his own world,” wrote François-Marc Gagnon, “a place that could exist between abstraction and figuration.”[3]

In the same period when Riopelle painted Velouté he also was making more and more sculpture, a shift in his practice that one can see in the forceful and dynamic paint handling in this work and others from the same time. Moving on from the precise and mannered “mosaics” of the 1950s, Velouté is almost carved, the paint treated like clay, gouged and pushed into forms that are akin to relief sculpture. As art historian Serge Guilbaut wrote, “Riopelle, working his clay, made the countryside sing.”[4]

That song resonates in Velouté, a visual music that creates a place where space is brought to the forefront of our vision and experience. As sculpture does, Velouté “unfurls a space of varied densities,” where, philosopher Julian Mitchell wrote, paraphrasing Martin Heidegger, “space is thickened.”[5] In such a thick space, as Riopelle knew so well, a single leaf “is the whole forest.”[6] Velouté’s varied densities evoke the world. That is its connection to the forest, to the landscape—not how it looks, but how it feels. “Mellow,” as one translation of this painting’s title would have it, indeed, but so much richer and deeper: The world. Thickened.

We thank Ray Cronin, author of nine books on Canadian art and the founding curator of the Sobey Art Award, for contributing the above essay.

1. Jean Paul Riopelle, “Statement,” quoted in Douglas Fetherling, ed., Documents in Canadian Art (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1987), 133.

2. Yseult Riopelle, “Chronology,” in Stéphane Aquin, Riopelle (Montreal: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Paris: Connaissance des Arts, 2002), 110–15.

3. François-Marc Gagnon, Jaen Paul Riopelle: Life & Work (Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2019), 59.

4. Serge Guilbaut, “From Earth to Sky with Riopelle,” in Aquin, Riopelle, 24.

5. Julian Mitchell, Heidegger Among the Sculptors (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 39.

6. Riopelle, “Statement,” 133.

Estimate: $500,000 - $700,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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