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Details
Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)
Sunflower V
oil on canvas
103 x 63 in. (261.6 x 160 cm.)
Painted in 1969.
Provenance
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 9 May 1984, lot 17
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 18 May 1999, lot 48
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Exhibited
Tokyo, Seibu Gallery, The Martha Jackson Collection, 1971
Syracuse, New York, Everson Museum of Art; New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, My Five Years in the Country, April-June 1972, p. 8 (illustrated).
New York, Culture Center, Women Choose Women, January-February 1973, p. 79 (illustrated).
Wilmington, Delaware Museum of Art, Contemporary American Paintings from New York Galleries, 1973.
Albany, University Art Gallery, State University of New York; San Antonio, Koehler Cultural Center, Works from the Martha Jackson Gallery Collection, 1975.

Lot Essay

In the late 1960s, Joan Mitchell moved from New York City to Vétheuil, a small village just outside Paris in the French countryside. The move proved to be a catalyst for a dramatic change in the artist's work. The lavish landscape of her new surroundings provided Mitchell with great inspiration for exploring her notions of the beauty of landscape.

Mitchell shied away from the restrictive term "Nature," and yet her unfailing devotion to landscape remained a constant throughout her career and distinguished her from her Abstract Expressionist peers. Her work is not autobiographical; she rarely painted a precise view of her surroundings or plein air. Instead, she expressed feelings from the experience of being in the landscape, and her own unwaivering sense of awe. Judith Bernstock wrote: "Her work is obviously a deeply felt expression of her experience but is tempered by the demands of the painting as painting. Not a mere emotional outburst of nature, it is the result of an objective discipline as rigorous as that of Cézanne" (J. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, pp. 67-68).

Mitchell's Vétheuil studio was situated upon a hill overlooking the gardener's cottage that was once the home of Claude Monet. At the insistence of the studio's previous owner, Mitchell maintained a well groomed garden, where she planted sunflowers. The proximity of this beautiful and alluring flower provided Mitchell with the inspiration for one of her most compelling series of the same name, which she began shortly after her move and continued until the end of her career.

Sunflowers not only provided Mitchell's compositions with the vibrant shock of yellow paint, but an allusion to a beautiful lifeforce. "Because it turns its head constantly to the sun, the sunflower projects a sense of living movement and vitality: 'And then they're big and they're these gestural things, embracing'" (ibid, pp. 85-86). Sunflower V presents bold warm hues of yellow, orange and red juxtaposed with her signature blue and green against a richly layered white ground. Compelling spacial relationships between the colored forms result from this palette, in addition to an emotional invocation of a hot summer's day in the garden. The dramatic scale of Mitchell's canvas captures the majesty of the tall sunflower itself, as well as a sense of hope and optimism perhaps resulting from the recent move to her beloved new home.
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