Joan Mitchell
Year, Birthplace 1925, United States
Year, Place of death 1992, France
Joan Mitchell was born into a wealthy Chicago family: her father was a renowned physicist and art lover, her mother a writer and publisher. In the summers of 1942 and 1943, she took part in the activities of the artistic colony at Oxbow in Saugatuck, which led her to enrol in the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received art lessons between 1943 and 1947. She settled in New York and visited France for the first time, where she discovered Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and Wassily Kandinsky. At the start of the 1950s, she attended Hans Hofmann’s classes and became involved in the New York art world, associating herself with abstract expressionists and supporters of Action Painting such as Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko or Willem de Kooning, and participated in the movement known as the School of New York. Her ‘portraits’ of landscapes, which she displayed from 1953 in the Stable Gallery (where she would exhibit almost every year until 1965), aimed to express the painter's emotions through the spectacle of nature. She also studied art history at Columbia University, finishing, at the same time, her course at the Art Institute of Chicago (1950). In 1955, she met the Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, who was three years her senior, after his second solo exhibition at the Pierre Matisse gallery in New York (the first took place in 1954). The following year, she followed him to France, where he lived. For twenty-five years they maintained an artistic and amorous relationship, living first in Paris, then, from 1969, in Vétheuil, where Claude Monet used to work. Despite returning regularly to her own country to exhibit, she preferred isolation. In 1958, along with Riopelle, she participated in a group exhibition organised by Jean Fournier at his gallery on avenue Kléber, bringing together European and North American artists (Simon Hantaï, Jean Degottex, Sam Francis, Riopelle, Judit Reigl...). Her first solo exhibition in Paris was held at the Galerie Neufville in 1960 (then at the Galerie Jacques Dubourg and the Galerie Laurence in 1962). She resumed her collaboration with Jean Fournier, now based in rue du Bac, and managed to secure a solo exhibition in 1967 (with a poem-card by Jacques Dupin). She became one of the gallery’s most important artists and exhibited there ten times until 1992, the last few times with presentations by Yves Michaud, not to mention the numerous group exhibitions in which she participated. In parallel, she presented two or three solo exhibitions every year in the United States, often at the Martha Jackson Gallery, which was her representative in New York. Her extreme sensitivity and strong character gave her a special place on the Parisian scene. During the entire French ‘period’, she preferred to paint in large formats or on canvases mounted on diptychs, triptychs or polyptychs. She maintained a ‘gestural' technique, using a sequence of small, snatched, unwilling and spattered brushstrokes rather than long lines, resulting in a fervent mobility. She played with chromatic dissonances, with very bright colours on backgrounds of modulated transparency. She shared the same approach to nature as her partner, Jean-Paul Riopelle. In 1974, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York staged an important exhibition of her work. Her first retrospective dates from 1982 at the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Joan Mitchell was awarded the national grand prize for painting the following year and the grand prize for arts of the city of Paris in 1991. In the United States, a retrospective – organised in 1988 by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Cornell University – was held in Washington, San Francisco, Buffalo and La Jolla. After Jean-Paul Riopelle’s permanent departure for Canada, in around 1980, she went through some difficult and painful years – marked by a cancer of the mouth and the toll of alcoholism – until she died at the age of sixty-six in a Paris hospital in 1992. After her death, a new retrospective was organised in France in 1994 at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Musée des beaux-arts in Nantes, and later in the United States, in 2002-2004, in New York (at the Whitney Museum), Birmingham, Fort Worth and Des Moines. Splitting her time between her country of origin and her adopted country doubtless caused some harm to her recognition, but it guaranteed her independence. AC