Joan Mitchell's resplendent painting Magnolia was painted while the artist was living in Vétheuil, France. The present lot is an exploration of deeply nuanced colors and utilizes several of the themes Mitchell employed during this prolific and important time in her career. Mangolia presents a majestic diptych in which the artist masterfully weaves together subtle variations of white, mauve, sage and charcoal grey to create a nuanced exploration of color.
Mitchell constructively integrates the color white in Magnolia -- by simply leaving the canvas bare in some areas or building up heavily colored impasto in others, as seen in the right panel. The technique recalls that of Mitchell's "Field Series," which were painted between 1971 and 1973. Jane Livingston described: "now she used the white ground as an intensely enlivened part of the picture space, not as background, but as part of a cradle, or receptacle, for the passages of brilliantly worked color. Evocations of sunlight on flowering trees, or foliage reflected in shimmering water, elevate these paintings to a level of the most intense lyricism (J. Livingstone, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, New York, 2002, p. 34). Magnolia captures the bucolic environs of Vétheuil, which breathed new life into Mitchell's work, resulting in an era of bold experimentation and intricate and nuanced coloration. With energetic and gestural brushstrokes layering pigments of lavender and mauves and light sage and grey, Mitchell creates a subtle exploration of calming tones. Punctuated by frenetic dark slashes of charcoal, there is an invigorating tension visible in this arresting composition.
Moving to Vétheuil in the late 1960s, Mitchell found herself with more space to paint. During this time, she began exploring scale in a new way, often creating monumentally sized works often comprised of multiple panels. In Magnolia, Mitchell creates a sweeping and grand painting composed over two large scale canvases. These imposing canvases allowed Mitchell to create impressive and monumental works on a scale she had not been able to explore before. Mitchell’s move to France not only influenced the scale of her paintings, but the color and composition as well. As the Impressionists before her, Mitchell found inspiration in the landscape of the French countryside.
The French countryside granted Mitchell a privacy and physical closeness to the natural landscape that living in the French capital had not. She would often sit out on her terrace overlooking the Seine and regularly worked in her expansive garden, planting sunflowers and other brightly colored flowers and plants. The solitude of the countryside, its rolling hills and valley lush with color and light brought much joy to Mitchell--a joy which can be felt in her works dated from late 1967 to the mid-1970s. "Like Monet and other Impressionists, Joan adored the rain-washed, cloud-scudding Valley of the Seine for its moody weather and grainy-white light that intensified colors. Everything greened and grew: even the stone walls sprouted climbing roses. The space-feelings were ordered yet open, and the colors-the clear yellows of colza and forsythia, the foamy whites of hawthorn, the tender violets of predawn skies, the grass greens, the evanescent blues of late-spring twilights-deliciously 'Frenchie'" (P. Albers, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, A Life, New York, 2011, p. 317).
During this period, she worked closely with Jean Fournier in Paris, where she regularly exhibited. Mitchell was enlivened by her professional establishment and financial security that resulted in the fruitful and impressive works produced in this period of her career. In 1972, the artist was granted a solo exhibition at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York of forty-nine paintings produced in France over a five-year period. In his review of the show, Peter Schjeldahl wrote that "If the current revisionist study of Abstract Expressionism yields any lasting benefits, I must believe that among them will be a recognition of Mitchell as one of the best American painters not only of the fifties, but of the sixties and seventies as well" (P. Schjeldahl, "Joan Mitchell: To Obscurity and Back," New York Times, 30 April 1972). Magnolia was painted shortly after this exhibition and Mitchell had reached a new height of success and artistic prowess. Her confidence is immediately traceable in the subtleties of composition and distinctive array of techniques applied in the present work.