• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1998

    Post -War And Contemporary Art Morning Session

    14 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 179

    Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)

    Field for Two I

    Price Realised  


    Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)
    Field for Two I
    titled 'Field for Two I' (on the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    51 1/8 x 38 1/8 in. (130 x 97 cm.)
    Painted in 1973.

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    In 1969, Joan Mitchell traded in her St. Marks Place studio for a home located near Monet's workplace in Vètheuil, France. Born in 1925 in Chicago, Mitchell gained recognition as a leading second-generation Abstract Expressionist. Peter Schjeldal asserts:

    "If the current revisionist study of Abstract Expressionism yields any lasting benefits, I must believe that among them will be a recognition of Mitchell as one of the best American painters not only of the fifties, but of the sixties and seventies as well." (P. Schjeldal, "Joan Mitchell: To Obscurity and Back," New York Times, April 30, 1972, p. D23).

    Mitchell was inspired by poetry, a reverence that manifests in her painting. Not only was her monther a poet and editor of Poetry magazine in the 1940s, but Joan also maintained close relationships with famous poets such as Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery. Field for Two I is visual poetry, representing her inner ruminations. She recalls her experience in nature and conveys it through highly gestural brushstrokes. Orange, green, blue and eggplant pigments are layered, scraped, etched and smeared across the canvas. Although horizontal color blocks dominate, the drips in the lower left corner and two vertical panels in the top right corner establish balance in the picture plane. The tactile surface achieves a harmony of texture and tone. Upon hearing an account of Field for Two I from a gallery director in France, the current owner immediately purchased the work based on its description alone. Such is the power conveyed by the poetry of Mitchell's canvases.

    While Field for Two I signifies primarily Mitchell's romantic goal of looking inward, the painting also harkens back to her early gouache practice. Her Student gouache, executed in 1944, illustrates two figures strolling through a park. Tinged in autumn hues, the work demonstrates Mitchell's developing relationship with the landscape. Notably, however, she inserts two horizontal bands of pink and orange above the trees, which she implements again in her mature 1970s style of painting. This abstract infringement upon the figurative landscape illustrates how the forms of Mitchell's Field paintings consider both the environment of the literal field and the visual trope of the chromatic color field.

    While Mitchell was greatly inspired by Pollock's drips, Gorky's layers, and Rothko's multiforms, she was equally inspired the Impressionist masters Cezanne, Monet, and Van Gogh. The 1970s marked a generative stage in Mitchell's artistic career. Embodying the methodology and attitude of both artistic eras, she isolated herself and connected with nature, both of which resonate in her Field paintings.

    Fields are boundless areas of vastness and freedom, often regarded as a place for spiritual transcendence. Mitchell's fields, in addition, connote a time of physical isolation and solitude. In writing about the pendant work, Field for Two (1973), shown at the Walker Art Center in 1999, art historian Judith Bernstock proposes:

    "Field for Two suggests in its title and its softening of boundaries the artist's desire for socialization, for a place that allows room for more than one, for the comfort of two-a nature that is not isolating." (J. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York: Hudson Hill Press, 1988, pp.115, 119).

    In light of Bernstock's interpretation, the current work is fascinating. Field for Two I is signed "Riopelle," the French-Canadian painter and Mitchell's partner, on the reverse. This signature suggests that Field for Two I was conceived for him. Thus, her work becomes an offering for Riopelle on her behalf in the hopes of liberation from her alienated state. Together, the two works become a pair, each captivating on its own, yet complementing the other. The verticality of Field for Two and horizontality of Field for Two I achieve cohesion as a symbol of the artists' union.
    While Mitchell maintained her signature style in France, her departure asserted the artist's evolution from the American art scene. Determined as Mitchell was to avoid the modern "Picasso cult," her time spent in Vètheuil allowed her to cultivate a distinguished style of individualism, one unique to the New York School. In her canvases, vibrating with heavy impasto and primal color, Joan Mitchell discharges the inner landscape of her romance, emotion, and toil. Field for Two I initiates, in the words of Jane Livingston, "Mitchell's ascendancy to a level that few artists have attained." (J. Livingston, "The Paintings of Joan Mitchell." The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2002, p. 35).


    Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1976