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LOT 026

Jean Paul Riopelle
1923 - 2002

Sans titre
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1964 and on verso titled as Painting on the Pierre Matisse gallery label, dated, inscribed "PM 2" / "132" / "M Riopelle 1340" and stamped with a Paris export stamp and with the Lefebvre-Foinet arts supplies stamp
32 x 39 1/2 in 81.3 x 100.3 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

Sold for: $481,250

Preview at:

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, inventory #St 6006
Acquired from the above by Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc., Vancouver, inventory #C605, January 28, 1981
Acquired from the above by a Corporate Collection, Calgary, November 30, 1982
Private Collection, Calgary

Gilles Vigneault et al., Jean Paul Riopelle, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1991, page 34
Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 3, 1960 - 1965, 2009, titled as Sans titre, dated 1963 - 1964, pages 23 and 26, reproduced page 187, catalogue #1963.012H.1963-1964

While Jean Paul Riopelle’s distinct approach to matter was a key part of his modus operandi throughout his entire career, the first half of the 1960s represented a turning point in this aspect. His dense all-over compositions had grown larger and more ambitious during the 1950s. Then in the early 1960s, Riopelle’s works became more spacious, and his slender strokes of the palette knife, typical of his mosaic period, became elongated and looser. Art historian Herta Wescher wrote at the time, “The dense mosaics characteristic of his paintings of ten years ago have been broken up, allowing space to enter from all sides. Now, order and chaos intermingle, diagonals, curves and sharp hooks attach the verticals, voids are trapped at the heart of incredibly crowded centers.”
Executed in 1964, Sans titre is an outstanding example from this period. Its pictorial space is organized, yet the gesture remains intuitive and unrestrained. Here, Riopelle rakes through layers of paint with his spatula, sculpting the coloured matter onto the canvas. In a series of ample movements, he drags the metal blade through white, lavender, grey, pink, black and green paint, and the strokes encircle the work in a frame-like arrangement. At the heart of the canvas, black, periwinkle, ruby red, salmon, maroon and brown paint is slashed and swept in rhythmic vertical, horizontal and oblique strokes. Black shards in the right and left areas punctuate the composition, while the unfurling of blood red at the centre intensifies its dramatic aspect. Throughout Sans titre, slivers of yellow and emerald are revealed under layers of thick impasto.
Unlike Riopelle’s mosaic period works, the mass of colour is detached from the outer edges of the canvas and hovers at its centre, effectively “reintroducing the figure-ground duality that the 1950s’ ‘all over’ had ousted,” according to art historian Monique Brunet-Weinmann. This bustling canvas is intensely dynamic and rich, with saturated hues glistening in an intense kaleidoscope. The resulting explosion of colour radiates and leads the eye across the painting’s surface in a hypnotic dance – a dance we can almost imagine the artist himself participating in as he swabs and slathers his paints in energetic movements.
Riopelle’s approach to paint was sensuous and rooted in its very materiality. Brunet-Weinmann goes as far as saying that Riopelle painted the way he sculpted, taking the pigment into his hands. Robert Keane, the owner of Riopelle’s Long Island studio, offers a rare account of the artist’s methods. Loading the surface of the work with paint, he would then work his knife through it, mixing his colours as one would gradually contaminate its neighbours. Keane explained, “He would hold all the tubes [with their heads lopped off], three or four maybe, or as many as he could fit in his hand, in his fist, and empty them directly onto the canvas…he was very deft, constantly going back and forth between the cluster of colors and his knife.”
The first half of the 1960s also saw Riopelle gaining national and international recognition. He represented Canada at the 1962 Venice Biennale, where he was awarded the UNESCO Prize. This was also the first time Canada presented a solo exhibition of an artist in the prestigious biennale. That same year, three of his works were shown in Art Since 1950: American and International, which was part of the Seattle World’s Fair. The National Gallery of Canada held a retrospective of his work in 1963, which then traveled to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This recognition would continue later in 1967, when the Musée du Québec organized another retrospective, and in 1968, when he participated in an exhibition of Canadian art at the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, asserting Riopelle as one of Canada’s most international artists.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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