LOT 021

1923 - 2002

Sans titre
oil on canvas, circa 1966
signed and on verso inscribed "M" and "23800" on the André Chenue et fils label and stamped 20F faintly on the canvas
28 3/4 x 23 7/8 in 73 x 60.6 cm

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Sale of Guy Loudmer, Commissaire-priseur SCP, Paris, February 16, 1992
Private Collection, Montreal

Jean Louis Prat, 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, essay by Monique Brunet-Weinmann, page 26
Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 4, 1966 - 1971, 2014, essay by François-Marc Gagnon, pages 43 – 44, reproduced page 124 and listed page 520, catalogue #1966.075H.V1966

Sans titre, an oil on canvas executed circa 1966, is an outstanding example of Jean Paul Riopelle’s mature 1960s style, with its spacious compositions and ample strokes of the palette knife. Bolder and more gestural, works from this period often have a mass of colour hovering at their centre, detached from the outer edges of the canvas, and this is the case here. In Sans titre, Riopelle drags the thin metal blade through white, grey, black and brown paint at the outer edges in a series of sharp movements, encircling the work in a frame-like arrangement. At the centre of the canvas, a beating heart of scarlet, crimson, brown and black swirls and vibrates in rhythmic vertical, horizontal and oblique strokes. Small slivers of cool cobalt blue appear underneath layers of impasto. Looking at Sans titre brings to mind a quote on Riopelle by the art historian Herta Wescher: “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.”

The heavily textured surface of Sans titre, with its peaks and valleys of paint, is quintessential of Riopelle’s methods. There were very few witnesses to the way he painted, but Robert Keane, the owner of Riopelle’s Long Island studio, offered a rare account. He said that the artist would cut off the tops of his tubes of paint, rather than using their caps, and empty their contents onto the canvas. Then he worked his palette knife through the paint, mixing his colours directly on the surface. By working this way, Riopelle invited a brief moment of chance between applying the pigment and sweeping his palette knife through it, as colours mixed unpredictably.

This method also led Riopelle to use impressive quantities of paint, which he approached almost sculpturally. The artist once confessed: “When I begin a painting, I always hope to do it in a few gestures, based on some colours laid on at first just anywhere, any old way; but it never works out that way. I add more and more, without realizing that I am doing it; I never wanted to paint thickly, tubes of paint cost far too much; but the painting has to be painted; when I learn how to paint better, I will use less paint.” Despite its self-deprecating tone (“when I learn how to paint better”), this quote is quite revealing, as noted by art historian François-Marc Gagnon. In response, he wrote that Riopelle’s “painting is not a random juxtaposition of coloured patches (‘just anywhere, any old way’), but an ordered whole, controlled and compelling. The result has relief, only slight but relief all the same…..which likens it to sculpture.”

During the second half of the 1960s, Riopelle was in his 40s and had been enjoying a successful career for about 15 years. He had lived in Paris since 1947, and his circle of friends included artists such as Sam Francis, Zao Wou-Ki and Alberto Giacometti, the art critics Georges Duthuit and Pierre Schneider, and the authors Samuel Beckett and André Breton. Pierre Loeb, Jacques Dubourg and Jean Fournier sold his works in Paris, and Pierre Matisse represented him in New York – all major dealers at the time.

Needless to say, this period was a dynamic one for the Canadian in Paris, but 1966 was an especially pivotal year in his career. That year he entered the prestigious stable of Galerie Maeght, founded by Marguerite and Aimé Maeght, joining the ranks of Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Antoni Tàpies, Alexander Calder and Joan Miró. In addition to the many new exhibition venues that were made available to him, including the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, he had access to significantly greater financial and technical resources, which allowed for more creative exploration. Produced around 1966, Sans titre symbolizes an inspiring and exceptional time in Riopelle’s career.

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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