LOT 020

1923 - 2002

oil on canvas
signed and on verso titled, dated 1959 on the Mira Godard gallery label and inscribed "L"
21 x 25 1/2 in 53.3 x 64.8 cm

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto,
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 23, 2007, lot 180
Prominent Corporate Collection, Montreal

In 1959, Jean Paul Riopelle, aged 36, enjoyed a solid reputation, which he had earned over the course of the decade. Since 1947, he had been living in France, where he established contacts among the Surrealists and then among the exponents of Lyrical Abstraction. An exhibition at the Pierre Loeb gallery in 1953 signaled the beginning of his fame, which increased steadily thereafter, in particular owing to his association with the Pierre Matisse Gallery, which began representing the artist in 1954. Riopelle’s participation in the Venice Biennale in 1954 and the Bienal de São Paulo in 1955 contributed to his achieving international recognition. In 1958, he received an honourable mention at the Guggenheim International Award exhibition.

Riopelle’s 1959 production consisted of 80 canvases and 44 oils on paper. That year, he exhibited in Stockholm, Paris, Milan, Turin, London, Toronto, Basel and Cologne. His work was presented at Documenta 2 in Kassel.

Descriptive attests to his development at the close of his period of “mosaic” paintings. In those works from the 1950s, pure colour straight from the tube was laid on the canvas with a paint spatula in a technique that created an effect recalling mosaic tiles. The spatula allowed a buildup of coloured material that produced the texture and materiality that were the hallmark of Riopelle’s touch. In this manner, the artist transcribed his gestures into allover compositions pervaded with energy and movement. The distinctive result was in step with the research of painters at the time, as embodied in French Lyrical Abstraction and American Abstract Expressionism.

In the late 1950s, Riopelle’s rapid, energetic spatula strokes crossed in gestures that tended to grow longer. The artist gradually moved away from an all-over approach to create more clearly defined spaces in his compositions through the organization of colour and the traces of gesture. In Descriptive, there is a central space with finer, livelier strokes that stand out subtly from a background where the handling remains closer to that of the mosaics. These two levels of intervention give the composition a certain two-dimensionality, which is reinforced by the prominent black marks. The black provides a striking contrast with the the sober palette, highlighted by the soft lightness of pinks and violets that are juxtaposed and intermingled in the spatula work. Illuminated with white, the composition is punctuated by a few bright touches of green and red.

With its dynamic strokes of generous coloured material, Descriptive is characteristic of Riopelle’s technique in the late 1950s, when the great period of the mosaics came to an end. Faithful to his spirit of experimentation, the artist continued to evolve, eventually arriving at a partial return to figuration.

We thank Andréanne Roy, art historian and curator of the exhibition Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2020, for contributing the above essay. This essay is a translation from the French text.

This work is included as an addendum to Volume 2, 1954 – 1959 in Yseult Riopelle’s online catalogue raisonné on the artist’s work at http://www.riopelle.ca.

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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