As with all Joan Mitchell's best work, Between is guided by a love of beauty and a passion for the physical act of painting. It is a self-assured, deeply felt response to remembered landscapes and the feelings evoked by nature. Deep cornflower blues, rusty yellows, rich warm browns and verdant greens entwine on the canvas in a poetic expression of the joy of being alive. Mitchell's lush, variegated brushstrokes are intuitively applied to create a rhythmic and dense configuration of layers. The speed of every gesture and the weight of each mark have been deftly controlled to allow the composition space and equilibrium without compromising on its manifest vitality. Patches of white bring luminosity and sense of depth to the work; a single, ingeniously restrained burst of magenta applied to the centre of the canvas anchors the composition and gives it freshness.
Born in Chicago, Mitchell moved to New York in 1950 after spending a year in France where her paintings first moved towards abstraction. Once in New York she began to emerge as one of the leading younger American Abstract Expressionist painters, participating in seminal exhibitions alongside the New York School of painters such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. She began to spend increasing amounts of time in France as the decade progressed, and in 1968 moved just outside Paris to Vétheuil, where she remained for the last twenty-five years of her life. The same countryside that was the inspiration for many of Monet's paintings also became Mitchell's muse. Absorbing the lessons of impressionist and post-impressionist masters, she translated the feeling of the landscape into her own personal language of gestural abstraction that she never ceased to deepen and refine.
Between is part of a series of works that are particularly buoyant. They were painted at a time when Mitchell's sensitivity to her natural surroundings and the liberation she always felt when painting was intensified, for she had been hospitalised on several frustrating occasions between 1984 and 1986. The title of this painting refers to these precious periods between stays when she could paint. The importance of nature to her work became strikingly clear: 'When I was sick [in the hospital], they moved me to a room with a window and suddenly through the window I saw two fir trees in a park, and the gray sky, and the beautiful gray rain, and I was so happy. It had something to do with being alive. I could see the pine trees, and I felt I could paint. If I could see them, I felt I would paint a painting' (J. Mitchell, quoted in J. Livingston, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2002, p. 41).