Jean Paul Riopelle
AUTO CAS OC QMG RCA SCA
1923 - 2002
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1959 and on verso titled and titled Sans titre and dated on the exhibition label, inscribed "T" (circled) / "G" (circled) / "5392" and variously and stamped indistinctly
23 1/2 x 31 7/8 in 59.7 x 81 cm
Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Contemporary Art, Christie's London, October 23, 1997, lot 12
Briest, Paris, June 16, 1998, lot 147
Artcurial, October 23, 2012, lot 109
A Prominent European Private Collection
Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 1, 1939 - 1954, 1999, quoting the artist, page 51
Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 2, 1954 - 1959, 2004, reproduced page 329, titled as Sans titre, catalogue #1959.057H.1959
Lévy Gorvy, London, Un art autre, April 26 - July 5, 2019
At the time when Parterre was executed in 1959, Jean Paul Riopelle was a young painter steadily gaining international recognition. In that year, he exhibited his works in Stockholm, Paris, Milan, Turin, London, Toronto, Basel and Cologne. After arriving in Paris in 1947, he had quickly integrated into a number of Parisian avant-garde groups. He was part of André Breton’s Surrealist circle, he was associated with the lyrical abstraction and nuagisme movements, and he became one of the leading figures of the new abstraction practised by the School of Paris. He was in frequent contact with artists such as Sam Francis, Alberto Giacometti, Georges Mathieu, Samuel Beckett and Zao Wou-Ki, and critics Georges Duthuit and Pierre Schneider. He showed his works in two major galleries: the Pierre Matisse in New York, alongside artists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, and the gallery of Jacques Dubourg in Paris, who was also the dealer for Nicolas de Staël.
This was an effervescent time in the artist’s career, as he was exposed to new circles of writers and intellectuals. Of the many ideologies circulating, Riopelle was especially inspired by the Surrealists, among the strongest voices on the artistic scene at the time. Their method of automatic painting, which bypassed figuration and freed the subconscious from rational control, became integral to Riopelle’s belief that meaningful works must be freed of rationality and representation. He described his approach as follows: “The painting must work itself out. I never tell myself, for instance, that I have to paint like this or like that to get one effect or another. If I reach that point, I stop. It’s dangerous...because then I am on the technical side of painting. There is always some solution to improve a painting that isn’t working. But this does not interest me. It loses its emotional unity. Because technique will unfortunately always win out.”
While Parterre’s process is indebted to the Surrealists, its painterly approach is reminiscent of the works of Abstract Expressionist painters, such as Jackson Pollock and Joan Mitchell, whom Riopelle met in the summer of 1955. Riopelle and Mitchell's rich and tempestuous relationship lasted 24 years, and both artists inspired each other’s work throughout. In 1959, the year Parterre was produced, Riopelle and Mitchell moved in together in a residence on rue Frémicourt in Paris’s 15th arrondissement.
Flickering in a mesmerizing jewel-toned colour palette, Parterre is at once expressive and controlled. Riopelle sculpts the paint onto the canvas in impassioned strokes, using a palette knife to build a rich impasto that enlivens the surface of the work. His strokes are slightly more ample than before, signaling a progression from his denser all-over compositions of the early 1950s. Crimson, emerald, brown, burnt orange, black and eggplant splinters move across Parterre in vertical, horizontal and diagonal directions. Luminous white touches, which he would increasingly use over the upcoming years, brighten the overall composition and make the reds appear more fiery in contrast. As Riopelle drags his palette knife through the white paint, traces of neighbouring pigments appear in transparency, creating ever-so-subtle colour variations.
Although the title Parterre is not meant to have a literal connotation, it is noteworthy to mention that parterre refers to both the ground level of a theatre and a garden arrangement.
Parterre is a dazzling display of Riopelle’s dexterity and control of technique. The thick impastos of the painting are sculpted into layered strata with high peaks and deep creases, inviting us to inspect every inch of its topography. He approached his painting almost as a sculptor would approach clay. It is no coincidence that in 1958, Riopelle began working with bronze and two years later, he shared a studio in Meudon, southwest of Paris, with the sculptor Roseline Granet. The heavily textured surface of Parterre testifies to his growing interest in sculpture. Parterre brings together the pictorial language of the Abstract Expressionists and the creative process of the Surrealists; it embodies Riopelle’s singular position as a Canadian artist who bridged the European avant-garde and American boldness.
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: $250,000 - $350,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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