Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)
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Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)

Profil d'orage (Profile of a Storm)

Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)
Profil d'orage (Profile of a Storm)
signed 'riopelle' (lower right); dated '1956' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
38¼ x 63 7/8in. (97 x 162.2cm.)
Painted in 1956
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
Acquavella Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, 15 November 2007, lot 148.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Y. Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle, Catalogue Raisonné, Tome 2, 1954-1959, Montreal 2004, no. 1956.102H.1956 (illustrated in colour, p. 242).
New York, Acquavella Contemporary Art, Riopelle, 1999.
New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Riopelle, 2005.
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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, ‘Preface’, in exh. Cat., Riopelle, London 1959, n.p.)

Profil d’orage (Thunderstorm profile) (1956) is a thrilling large-scale composition in Jean-Paul Riopelle’s distinctive abstract idiom, led by his virtuoso application of swathes of paint using a spatula. Mosaic forms and kaleidoscope flashes of colour envelop the viewer in the singular environment of Riopelle’s vision. The work’s title is aptly evocative: myriad branching bars of black and white are held in electric tension with depths of coolly arboreal green, rich blue and pyrotechnic red and orange. The rapid, crystalline contrasts of black against white offset passages of gliding transition in the hues that conjure sunset, sky and woodland. Perhaps we glimpse the dense pines and rugged landscape of Riopelle’s native Canada, refracted through the glinting strata of memory. Indeed, in 1956, the year that this work was executed, the Parisian reviewer Pierre Schneider observed that ‘The memory of the Canadian forests marks the abstract canvases of the young painter’ (P. Schneider, quoted in G. Robert, Riopelle, chasseur d’images, Montreal, 1981, p. 86). Far from imputing any such biographical content, however, Riopelle himself 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’ (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).

Riopelle was a fierce individualist. Though his engulfing compositions and thick, near-sculptural surfaces often saw him compared to painters such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, he was decidedly unaffiliated with Abstract Expressionism as a movement. 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. Working in a painterly mode that has been termed ‘lyrical abstraction’, Riopelle’s rejection of conscious thought was integral to his articulation of his personal relationship to the world around him. The vibrant, scintillating drama of Profil d’orage resounds with chromatic force and compositional vigour, capturing Riopelle’s intense ‘emotional unity’ at its unique and expressive best.

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