"A bit of nature, and a bit of sensation and an element of construction."
"I become the sunflower, the lake, the tree. I no longer exist." -Joan Mitchell
The twin sources for Joan Mitchell's work have always been landscape and her emotional responses to it. The years leading up to the execution of the present work were tumultuous for the artist so it is not surprising that her work underwent a dramatic transformation during this time. In 1963, her father passed away and her mother was diagnosed with cancer. After four difficult years, her mother passed away, leaving Mitchell a significant share of the family trust fund. 1967 also marks the year that Mitchell began her association with the prominent Galerie Jean Fournier in Paris, an association that would span many years and exhibitions. Fournier would provide the artist with a stable outlet for her work that she had yearned for since she began her bi-continental living arrangement between New York and Paris in 1959. For years, Mitchell had longed for the solitude and privacy of the country and for the first time, she had the means to make this a reality.
With her new sources of income, she purchased a lush two-acre estate near Monet's Giverny estate in Vétheuil, with spectacular views of rolling countryside (see fig. 1), the Seine and the numerous small villages, all of which became prime inspirations for her work from this period. As she noted, "The very simple things affect you. If you make more money, you buy better paint. That helps. If you move to a bigger studio and you have daylight, that helps. If you can see a daisy outside your window instead of a drunk on the Bowery, it's pleasanter." (quoted in J. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, p. 74).
In Maple Leave Forever and related works, she turned away from the Abstract Expressionist innovations of her earlier work--the all-over composition and the violent paint facture--in favor of a more personal and intimate expression. The paintings consist of sensuous rounded forms composed of softer brushstrokes and a lighter palette, that evoke foliage and bodies of water. Continuing a trend that she began in 1964, the paintings have a clearer figure/ground relationship that curiously imbues the composition with a Cezannesque spatial dichotomy-the forms read as abstracted trees or leaf structures, and at the same time appear to be a bird's eye view of the rolling landscape.
From her vantage point in Vétheuil, the distant trees look very much like the green shapes of Maple Leave Forever, which themselves remind one of the balls of color that represent fruit in Cézanne's still-lifes. Despite frequent comparison to Monet, Mitchell much preferred the Master of Aix, stating "He (Monet) isn't my favorite painter. There's a much heavier conscious influence from Cézanne. I never much liked Monet" (Ibid. p. 76). The floating forms seem physically light and seemingly rise effortlessly towards the top of the canvas like ethereal ghosts. Within these simplified forms are luxuriant painterly passages that are as expressive and masterful as any the artist would ever attempt. Maple Leave Forever is a powerful example of Mitchell's intense empathetic response to what would become her life long home.
The present work was originally in the collection of Harold Fondren, a noted dealer and longtime friend of the artist. Fondren worked at many seminal Post-War galleries, including the prominent Stable Gallery which established Mitchell's reputation with a series of exhibitions throughout the 1950s.