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Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF SHIRLEY JAFFE BY DESCENT
Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)

Untitled

Details
Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)
Untitled
oil on canvas
31¾ x 39 3/8 in. (80.6 x 100cm.)
Painted in 1951
Provenance
The collection of Shirley Jaffe, Paris (acquired directly from the artist).
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Literature
Y. Riopelle, Jean-Paul Riopelle Catalogue raisonné: Tome 2 1954-1959, Montreal 2004, no. 1951.005H.1951 (illustrated in colour; p. 420).
Exhibited
Philadelphia, Hendler Gallery, Group Exhibition, 1952.
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Lot Essay

‘Riopelle succeeds where memory fails. The intangible is given a body, desire a pictorial life. Objects astray, discarded impressions, forgotten emotions are put together in a cocktail-shaker and are poured out on the rocks in a Venetian glass of exquisite transparency in a splendid explosion’—P. BOUDREAU

‘I didn’t know Jackson Pollock personally. It’s a shame because I believe he is very intelligent and sincere. I saw one of his works for the first time in Paris in 1951, a canvas brought over by a close friend of his with whom I had a lengthy conversation that confirmed what I feel is the ultimate difference in conception between the two methods of exploration. Far from sharing a common cause, we are directly opposed’ —J-P. RIOPELLE

‘Exciting, wonderful. I took the opportunity to absorb as much art as I could, something I don’t think I had adequately done in New York. I went to every contemporary gallery and looked at everybody’s work and gave myself a visual education. … Sam Francis came around ’51 or ’52, and Joan Mitchell had already been there and would come back later, Jean-Paul Riopelle was there: a Canadian artist, one of the most generous artists I have known. ... There was a going and coming that was vital, a cultural exchange that was very lively’ —S. JAFFE


A scintillating effusion of abstract form and colour, Untitled (1951) exemplifies the energetic, layered command of paint that defines Jean-Paul Riopelle’s practice. The work was acquired directly from Riopelle by his friend Shirley Jaffe, who exhibited her work alongside his in Philadelphia in 1952 and, three years later in Paris, introduced him to Joan Mitchell – the artist who would become his romantic and intellectual partner for two tempestuous decades. Untitled is testament to a thrilling period of creativity and artistic conversation in mid-century Paris, during which Riopelle, Jaffe and Mitchell played pivotal roles in one another’s lives and in the story of abstract painting in Europe. In a 2004 interview, Jaffe recalled her time in Paris as ‘Exciting, wonderful. I took the opportunity to absorb as much art as I could, something I don’t think I had adequately done in New York. I went to every contemporary gallery and looked at everybody’s work and gave myself a visual education. … Sam Francis came around ’51 or ’52, and Joan Mitchell had already been there and would come back later, Jean-Paul Riopelle was there: a Canadian artist, one of the most generous artists I have known. ... There was a going and coming that was vital, a cultural exchange that was very lively’ (S. Jaffe, quoted in S. Kaneda, ‘Shirley Jaffe,’ Bomb: Artists in Conversation, 87, Spring 2004).

As Guy Robert has written, ‘During the year 1951, Riopelle painted tableaux that were textured with thick pastes, applied with a brush and more and more often with a spatula, and these depths, already bubbling with colours, were then slashed in all directions by fine spurts of paint whose network constitutes a kind of jazz rhythm: jerky, syncopated, muscular’ (G. Robert, Riopelle, chasseur d’images, Montréal 1981, p. 68). Untitled, with its thick impasto facets of teal, burgundy, mauve, yellow and Prussian blue overlaid with explosive filaments of white and red, displays this approach at its dynamic best. 1951 was a key year for Riopelle, seeing his participation in the Parisian group show Véhémences confrontées at Galerie Nina Dausset, curated by Michel Tapié; his work was shown alongside that of Hans Hartung, Wols, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. The vigorous skeins of paint that stream across Riopelle’s densely sculpted surfaces often invited superficial comparison with Pollock’s drip technique. Riopelle, however, rejected such associations. ‘I didn’t know Jackson Pollock personally,’ he wrote in 1954. ‘It’s a shame because I believe he is very intelligent and sincere. I saw one of his works for the first time in Paris in 1951, a canvas brought over by a close friend of his with whom I had a lengthy conversation that confirmed what I feel is the ultimate difference in conception between the two methods of exploration. Far from sharing a common cause, we are directly opposed’ (J-P. Riopelle, letter to Pierre Matisse, 25 January 1954). Indeed, decidedly unaffiliated with Abstract Expressionism as a movement, Riopelle was a fierce individualist. He would fling threads of liquid paint at a vertical canvas with a loaded brush or palette knife, rather than dripping carefully from above like Pollock. His uninhibited, improvisatory visual language can partly be attributed to the early influence of automatic painting, to which he had been introduced by Surrealists in Paris in the late 1940s. Although he similarly refused – despite André Breton’s best efforts – to be pinned down as a Surrealist, the group’s ideas aligned with his belief that a meaningful composition bypasses rationality and representation, becoming an embodiment rather than a replication of nature. His rejection of conscious thought was the integral means for Riopelle to articulate his personal relationship to the world around him, in a mode that has been termed ‘lyrical abstraction.’

The turbulent depths of Untitled are held in electric tension with its streaks of pyrotechnic white, but also create passages of gliding transition, from cooler blues through swathes of warm purple to vivid reds. These mosaic forms and kaleidoscope flashes of colour envelop the viewer in the singular environment of Riopelle’s vision, perhaps even evoking – as in the shifting memory-strata of Peter Doig’s paintings – the dense woods and rugged landscape of his native Canada. Far from imputing any biographical content, however, Riopelle would insist that the painting is its own self-defining expression. ‘The painting must work itself out,’ he said; ‘I never tell myself, for instance, that I have to paint like this or like that to get one effect or another. If I reach that point, I stop. It’s dangerous ... because then I am on the technical side of painting. There is always some solution to improve a painting that isn’t working. But this does not interest me. It loses its emotional unity. Because technique will unfortunately always win out’ (J-P. Riopelle, quoted in M. Waldberg, ‘Riopelle, The Absolute Gap’, in Y. Riopelle, Riopelle: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. I 1939-1954, Montreal 1999, pp. 39- 54). It is fitting, then, that in its ‘emotional unity’ Untitled should not only display the unparalleled passion and focus of its creator, but also stand as the brilliant relic of a personal and artistic friendship.


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