LOT 039

1923 - 2002

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1958 and on verso signed, titled, inscribed "K.H.B." / "CJ" / "L" (circled) / "Hanover I 58055" on a label / "Svensk 20" on the Arthur Lenars & Cie shipping label and stamped with the Douanes customs stamp
28 3/4 x 36 1/4 in 73 x 92.1 cm

Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris
A Prominent European Private Collection

Jean Paul Riopelle, Kestner-Gesellschaft Gallery, 1958, listed page 26
Jean Paul Riopelle, Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, 1959, listed page 8
Peintures récentes, Galerie Jacques Dubourg, 1960, unpaginated
Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 2, 1954 - 1959, 2004, reproduced page 286, catalogue #1958.003H.1958

Kestner-Gesellschaft Gallery, Hanover, Jean Paul Riopelle, 1958, catalogue #59
Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm, Jean Paul Riopelle, 1959, catalogue #20
Galerie Anne Abels, Cologne, Jean Paul Riopelle, October - November 1959, catalogue #8
Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris, Peintures récentes, May 31 - June 21, 1960, catalogue #7

Jean Paul Riopelle’s reputation as a leader of the avant-garde in Europe, the USA and his home province of Quebec is unequaled by any other mid-twentieth-century painter from Canada. It was necessary at that time to leave Canada to achieve his degree of recognition, to take advantage of opportunities to exhibit in prestigious international venues, in short, to have his work seen alongside and compared with the world’s top painters during the efflorescence of Abstract Expressionism and later School of Paris painting.

A prominent follower of Paul-Émile Borduas in Montreal and a signatory to the transformative cultural manifesto Refus global (1948), Riopelle had exceptional credentials in and commitment to the dominant world of abstract painting. He deepened his early interest in Surrealism at its source when he moved to Paris in 1947. André Breton – the leader of the Surrealists – included him in the landmark 6th International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1947, in which Riopelle was the only Canadian.

The creative potency of the unconscious seen at this time remained important for Riopelle, but his signature work of the 1950s moved away from the look of abstract Surrealism. He enjoyed unprecedented recognition for a painter from Canada, including participation in the Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil, in 1951 and 1955 and the Venice Biennale in 1954 and 1962. Although Riopelle returned to Quebec permanently in 1972 and painted until his death in 2002, his evolving work of the 1950s remains the centre of his oeuvre. During this decade, Riopelle rapidly consolidated his characteristic “mosaic” surfaces: prismatic areas tightly inflected by bold, angular and vibrantly coloured skeins of impasto. By the later part of the decade, as we see with Champs (1958), Riopelle’s canvases admit more air and space. Like his work of the early and mid-1950s, this painting is exuberant and celebratory, but Riopelle now conveys these qualities through an evolving relationship with the painted surface.

Champs presents an almost room-like expanse, especially in the upper right, where we can imagine his ribbon forms moving in an interior. The pigment throughout is especially liquid, seemingly still in flux before our eyes. Notable too is the predominant range of greys that define, then as quickly disassemble, this space. Shades of light and darker grey dominate a background architecture, but rather than a rigid container for the many accents of black and white and their streams of blue, yellow, purple and green, all forms work together – and ceaselessly – to convey an organic fusion. As in many of Riopelle’s surfaces, there is also relief in the paint here, a topography defined by both thinly and broadly applied passages in the top left, for example, in contrast with tracks of impasto elsewhere.

Because his work was often likened in the 1950s to both European Surrealist-inspired abstraction and American Abstract Expressionism (especially that of Jackson Pollock, however disparate their approaches were), Riopelle often felt the need to deny that he worked with any sort of abandon. While one would not suggest that Champs was less than spontaneous, its construction was more careful than one might initially perceive. For example, the long forms in yellow, black, blue and purple that stream across the surface are both freely calligraphic and explicitly balanced. Three predominant verticals in yellow correspond with three horizontal strokes. Such assertive interactions give the painting its lasting vibrancy.

We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and the author of two books on abstract art—The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting and Abstract Art Against Autonomy: Infection, Resistance, and Cure since the 60s—for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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