LOT 033

1923 - 2002

Sans titre
oil on canvas, 1955
on verso signed and inscribed variously
21 5/8 x 18 in, 54.9 x 45.7 cm

Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000 CAD

Sold for: $289,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
By descent to a Private Collection, Toronto
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, May 23, 2007, lot 133
Private Collection, Montreal
The Art Emporium, Vancouver
Private Collection, Vancouver
Sold sale of Post-War & Contemporary Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, May 30, 2018, lot 33

Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 2, 1954 - 1959, 2004, reproduced page 193, catalogue #1955.006h.1955

This magnificent Sans titre from 1955 is essentially a classic of the so-called mosaic period. How should we define the main characteristics of the works of this period? The first characteristic, and that which earns the style its name, is that the painting is made up of small parts, juxtaposed to one another and not superimposed, resembling the small blocks of marble (tesserae) historically used in mosaics.

The second feature is that these blocks of paint are obtained by pressing the palette knife against the pigment, which first has been deposited onto the canvas by tubes of paint held in the hand, creating a moment of invisibility when the blade of the knife covers the painting surface. The importance of this “unseen” cannot be overstated. It is this element that introduces a moment of surprise in the development of the painting and that Riopelle attributed to “total chance” when he wanted to differentiate himself from the Automatists. For example, Paul-Émile Borduas never wanted to lose visual control over his painting during his Automatist period, such as in his paintings Carquois fleuris or Parachutes végétaux. On the contrary, Riopelle, who practised decalcomania, was very attracted by the effects of invisibility in the development of a painting.

Another characteristic, which, at first glance, seems fairly inconsequential, is that the shape of the patches of paint obtained with the knife resembles the shape of the tool used to produced them, as Riopelle avoided sliding his knife sideways - instead preferring to press (or flatten) the paint already on the canvas. Later on, at the end of his career, Riopelle sought to obtain this “resemblance by imprint,” to use an expression from G. Didi-Huberman, by using an aerosol spray can. By spraying an object with pigment and placing it on the flat canvas laid on a table, Riopelle obtained impressions that were essentially negatives, revealing a form when the object was removed. But in 1955, we are not there yet.

The fourth feature is that the formats adopted by Riopelle for his paintings are essentially classics of French painting: an increase in height for portraits, an increase in width for still lifes and landscapes, yet greater increase in width for seascapes. These were the formats used by painters such as Gustave Courbet, Eugène Delacroix and Henri Matisse, whom Riopelle admired.

It goes without saying that in works of this period, their abstract character is quite evident, although Riopelle was always ready to reject the difference between the abstract and the figurative in relation to his paintings. As he said, his painting does not take anything from nature, but it goes towards nature.

At times, Riopelle felt the need to streak the painted surface with filaments of white thrown with a flick of the wrist using a stick dipped in paint. That is not the case here.

In Sans titre, 1955, the contrasting black, white and red dominate but do not exclude the more discrete traces of yellow, orange and blue. Colour here has a denotative function and serves to distinguish the patches of paint rather than to suggest more or less figurative connotations. Furthermore, if we follow the edges of the patches of paint, which often have a slight relief compared to the rest of the canvas, we perceive the movements that animate this mass of paint here, slightly to the right and top of the composition.

We thank François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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