The artwork of Joan Mitchell is highly charged, fiercely expressive painting that single-handedly advanced the Abstract Expressionist legacy until the artist's death in 1992. It is among the most radiant, lyrical work produced in Post-War American art, and is exceptional for the consistency of quality and innovation that Mitchell achieved until her final days in Vitheuil, France where she made her paintings in an studio once occupied by Claude Monet. "She outpaced all but a handful of her male counterparts and mentors, while only Lee Krasner stands as a possible rival among her female counterparts. Mitchell's commitment to an explosive yet delicate, sometimes lyrically beautiful and sometimes aggressively stormy vocabulary of form, line, and color evolved over the decades, but she remained devoted and devoutly abstract. Her work resonates with a passion for color, light and landscape." (Jane Livingston on "The Paintings of Joan Mitchell" Whitney Museum of American Art, 2002).
The present painting is a masterful example from La Grande Vallee cycle of twenty-one paintings made in 1983-1984 and numbered sequentially 0-20. In a focused burst of passionate energy, Joan Mitchell painted the entire series of La Grand Vallee paintings in just over 13 months. This dazzling series of paintings is a culmination of Mitchell's large-format lyric works. The title La Grande Vallee comes from a story told to Mitchell by her close friend Gisile Barreau about a lyrical secret valley, wild and untouched, that Gisile discovered as a child and in which she took refuge from a troubled family life. It was here that her imagination flourished and the joys of childhood could take place. Matching the magic and escape provided by Gisile's secret valley, these paintings are a glimpse into that enchanted place, layered with the shifting colors of the land and sky in densely applied fields of paint.
"Her vision of this enchanted landscape drove her to paint, and she ceased only when she had fully exhausted all possibilities of its expression. La Grande Vallee paintings form a discrete episode within Mitchell's oeuvre, sharing a common palette as well as certain formal and stylistic traits. They represent Mitchell's most sustained exploration of the "allover" approach, in which the entire canvas is covered with color from edge to edge. Although she allowed portions of the white canvas to remain visible, a Grande Vallee paintings offer a marked contrast to those works that rely on white painting to provide the underlying structure, or those that use large areas of bare canvas. Particularly in this cycle of paintings, Mitchell almost completely abandoned the figure-ground relationship, filling the entire surface of the pictures with short, lambent brush strokes." (Yvette Lee, "Beyond Life and Death" Joan Mitchell's Grande Vallee Suite, New York, 2000 p.64).
As the imagery in La Grande Vallee presses forward to the front of the canvas, the wild flowers, trees, and grasses of the valley come into our space, their fragrance nearly detectable, the magesty of Joan Mitchell's command of her poetry and paint inspiring.
Claude Monet, Saule pleureur, 1918-1919 Galerie Beyeler, Basel