Lot # 014
Spring 2013 - 1st Session Live auction

Jean Paul Riopelle
AUTO CAS OC QMG RCA SCA 1923 - 2002 Canadian

Sans titre
oil on canvas circa 1954
23 1/3 x 28 1/2 in  59.3 x 72.4cm

A gift from the Artist in Paris in the 1950s to Belle Burke, New York

Hélène de Billy, Riopelle, 1996, page 370

It is always tempting to seek in the life of an artist for a key to explain their art. Two of the Jean-Paul Riopelle paintings offered now at Heffel, this lot and lot 17, come from the personal collection of Belle Burke, née Notkin, a young American student of French literature at the Sorbonne who was Riopelle’s mistress in Paris during the end of his marriage to Françoise l’Espérance. Regarding Burke, we are told by Riopelle’s biographer Hélène de Billy that, “incapable of facing the end of this relationship, Jean-Paul was exhausting himself trying to hold her back. The game was turning out to be destructive, even violent and sometimes resembled a nightmare.” Among the things that Riopelle did to keep her was to give her a number of his works: oils, watercolours and a sketchbook containing 19 smaller watercolours (17 of these will be offered in Heffel’s Third Session - May 2013 Online Auction of Fine Canadian Art).
But we will seek in vain in this Sans titre (and lot 17) for the slightest allusion to Riopelle's and Burke’s tumultuous affair. Not only are the paintings abstract, they are also rather serene and well composed, beautiful in colour and harmony. They belong to another world - not the world of common passions, but the world of art.
Since at Véhémences confrontées, an exhibition organized by the French painter Georges Mathieu at Galerie Nina Dausset in Paris, Riopelle had declared that “seul peut-être fécond un hasard total (only a complete reliance on chance can be fruitful)”, we cannot see his painting as a reflection of his life. This element of chance made all the difference. Now, each painting was the result of an extraordinary array of choices made to control the flow of movement going in so different directions. Order is here obtained not from the exterior – including the life of the artist, his liaisons and ruptures - but from the process of painting, from the inside, so to speak. Riopelle had long since abandoned the traditional idea – which had its root in theology – that an intention had to preside over the execution of a painting in order for it to conform to the artist’s vision and planning. I speak of theology, because the model previously defended for art making was to compare the artist to God, and to see in his work an example of premeditated good design, a world in miniature, as it were. But this was no longer the case - this argument of good design was obsolete. For a long time, the world had not been perceived as a perfect machine proving the existence of its creator. For the painter, there was no plan, no aim, no objective defined in advance for a good painting. Even Riopelle’s own life could not be of any help in the definition of his art. The artist was no longer interested in the why of creation, but in the how. There was no final cause such as beauty or love, only a final abstract creation made by tools and paint, to use the vocabulary of Aristotle. The result was amazing. Suddenly a painting could be seen as full of risks taken by the painter, full of disorganization conquered step by step to achieve a completely satisfying structure, with movements converging, with zones of greater or lesser density, with combinations of colours never seen before. Our Sans titre is a magnificent example of the mastery Riopelle was able to achieve in this highly successful period of the 1950s. The result is almost lyrical, symphonic; completely abstract, this painting is not without relation to music.
We thank François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute of Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay.
This work is included as an addendum in Yseult Riopelle's online catalogue raisonné on the artist's work at http://www.riopelle.ca/

Estimate: $100,000 ~ $150,000 CAD  
Sold for: $198,900 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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