Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)
Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)
Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)
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Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)

Landscape for a Friend

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)
Landscape for a Friend
quadriptych—oil on canvas
overall: 24 x 70 in. (61 x 177.8 cm.)
Painted in 1977.
Xavier Fourcade, Inc., New York
IBM International Foundation, Armonk, New York
Their sale; Sotheby's, New York, 16 November 1995, lot 309
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
C. Ratcliff, "New York Letter," Art International, vol. 22, no. 1, January 1978, p. 91 (illustrated).
J. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, p. 151.
New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Joan Mitchell: New Paintings, December 1977-January 1978.
Bedford, Webb and Parsons Gallery, Joan Mitchell, September-October 1978.
San Francisco, Gallery Paule Anglim, Joan Mitchell, November-December 1979, no. 5.

Brought to you by

Rachael White
Rachael White

Lot Essay

“I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me – and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with. All art is subjective, is it not?“ — Joan Mitchell

Deep, royal blues, forest greens and energetic dabs of purple and orange lyrically dance across the surface of Joan Mitchell’s jewel-like canvas Landscape for a Friend. The composition elegantly emulates a remembered landscape that Mitchell has chosen to dedicate to a mysterious friend. The deeply saturated hues, animated through the artist’s staccato execution, provide a tactile weight to the canvas. As Barbara Rose has rightly noted of the artist’s surfaces: “[Joan Mitchell’s] brushstrokes are broad, generous, and animated; they make one think of a wild internal energy, disciplined and controlled by a super-ego that demands a respect for order and regularity” (B. Rose, “The Landscape of Light” in Joan Mitchell, exh. cat. Musée de’ Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1982, n.p.). The painting is a multilayered display, an exemplum of Joan Mitchell’s feverish, colorful mark-making.
Always a highly physical painter, Mitchell’s confident painterly gestures sweep across the four canvases of Landscape for a Friend. The paint has been applied in a variety of ways, ranging from fluid, broad strokes to weighty impasto dabs, giving the work a vital sense of movement. Painted in 1977, the work demonstrates Mitchell’s masterful control of color, emotion and brushwork. The frenetic energy of the canvas is felt in each of the four panels, and is balanced by the hints of the softer, primed white canvas. The color white is essential to the artist’s practice, and Mitchell has remarked that “painting without white would be like planting a garden without plants” (J. Mitchell, quoted in Judith E. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1997, p. 39). The white passages in Landscape for a Friend frame the composition, enabling the color-drenched strokes to pop from the central panels. Despite the intricacy of its gestural arrangement, Landscape for a Friend brings the viewer right to the brink of pictorial chaos, but never surrenders itself to it. Against a landscape laden with pigment, the void of color—white—becomes the harmonizing characteristic.
Mitchell was deeply inspired by the landscape, especially after 1967, when she bought a two-acre estate in Vétheuil, which included a cottage where Claude Monet lived between 1878 and 1881. Landscape for a Friend is a celebration of nature’s primal forces. The landscape at Vétheuil, with its picturesque planes and harmonious juxtapositions, informed Joan Mitchell’s painterly consciousness. As Patricia Albers wrote: “Nearly every window at La Tour commanded a dazzling view: between river and the road below lay a wonderfully unmanicured wet-grass field dotted with locusts, pines, pear trees, willows, ginkgoes, and sycamores. … Birds twittered and swooped. Wind ruffled the foliage. … From the time, she acquired Vétheuil, its colors and lights pervaded her work” (P. Albers, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, New York, 2011, p. 313). Painted nearly a decade after Joan Mitchell’s relocation, Landscape for a Friend is a compilation of the aspects of nature that were found around her, and she transcribed her natural subjects into deep swaths of blues, greens, purples and oranges.
Perhaps compelled by her personal circumstances at the time, Mitchell was nonetheless producing work in the mid-1970s that was electrifying both in terms of compositional and chromatic integrity. In 1974, she had a major retrospective at the Whitney, in 1976 she signed with well-connected dealer Xavier Fourcade who had his feet in both American and European roots, and in 1979 her relationship with the painter Jean-Paul Riopelle ended. During this time, Mitchell would manifest the tumult in her personal life with an outburst of experimentation, creating distinct bodies of work almost yearly. Landscape for a Friend is part of a group of works by Joan Mitchell that are emotively charged, fiercely expressive paintings, in which the fluent centripetal force unfurls in an abstract visual vocabulary that is evocative of the growth, decay, light, and verdant impressions of the natural world. Judith Bernstock has stated of this period, “A thick, generally vertical, but now shorter brushstrokes characterizes most of the paintings of 1977. The all-over tendency persists, but there is a retreat from the extreme agitation of the brushstrokes. Much application with the palette knife is also evident. Some of the tacked-on titles show Mitchell continuing to express her feelings toward people, animals, and freedom in terms of landscape. One painting is titled simply Landscape for a Friend.” (J. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, 1988, p. 151). The present work is among one of the most expressive and emotionally charged paintings from the latter part of her career and contains explosive and forceful form, line, and color, where painterly control across a large canvas combines with the primacy of force and passion.
Despite Mitchell’s love for France and its painters, the years Mitchell spent living in New York were also extremely formative for her. In 1950, she saw her first paintings by Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, and immediately sought them out in their studios. Though her work became influenced by their gestural expressionist style, she never imitated it. As Deborah Solomon stated, “What de Kooning was to flesh, Mitchell was to trees, sea and sky.” (D. Solomon, ‘In Monet’s Light’, The New York Times, November 24, 1991). She became one of the few women admitted into to the influential Artists’ Club, and in 1951 exhibited in the “Ninth Street Show” with a group of artists, including Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, that would come to be known as Abstract Expressionists. Mitchell shared their passionate belief in the physicality of painting itself, and its ability to capture a fleeting feeling.
Landscape for a Friend is testament to Joan Mitchell’s statement: “I would rather leave Nature to itself. It is quite beautiful enough as it is. I don’t want to improve it. I certainly never mirror it. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with” (J. Mitchell, quoted in J. I. H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1958, p. 75). Here, Mitchell returns to her most fundamental source of inspiration—nature—with unparalleled intensity. Meticulously constructed, Landscape for a Friend captures the ephemeral grandeur of the artist’s immediate surroundings. The dabs of brushwork evoke the planes of Cézanne landscapes, such as Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1904-1906. Internalizing Cézanne’s claim that “the landscape thinks itself in me,” Joan Mitchell fashions a deeply personal painting, one that is invigorated with a sense of self and is infused with the sunlight and vegetation of the outdoors. As Joan Mitchell always worked in the afternoon and at night, never within the landscape itself, her feelings and experience of her subject were filtered through the imagination as she painted. Landscape for a Friend serves as a tactile product of the artist’s memory, dedicated to a friend the viewer will never know.
Landscape for a Friend, painted during the mature years of the artist’s career, demonstrates Mitchell’s unwavering commitment to recording her remembrances of nature through paint. Suffused with movement and memory, Landscape for a Friend is a superior example of Joan Mitchell’s deeply felt landscapes. The painting’s coloristic interplays and tactile staccato strokes build up to a crescendo, harmonizing in a state of lyrical intensity.

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