Jean-Paul Riopelle - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris
    Blanchet & Joron-Derem, Drouot Richelieu, Paris, November 19, 2001, lot 69
    Private Collection
    Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Toronto, Loch Gallery, Spring Historic Exhibition, May 15-June 22, 2014

  • Literature

    Yseult Riopelle, ed., Jean Paul Riopelle, Catalogue raisonné, Tome 2, 1954-1959, Montreal, 2004, no. 1959.058H.V1959, p. 330 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    A luscious and early example of Jean-Paul Riopelle’s non-representational landscape paintings, Port Coton, circa 1959, transforms color into real, tangible form. The blocky and jagged delineations dominating the composition, bristling with oceanic hues and earthy tones, evoke the eponymous rock formations adorning the shore of Belle-Île, just below the coast of Brittany. With its famed tempestuous and dramatic setting, the storm-swept island inspired a number of painters including Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, amounting, namely, to Monet’s seminal The Rocks at Belle-Ile, 1886, now residing in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. This earlier painting, preceding the present work by nearly a century, feels like a stunning point of departure from which to envisage Riopelle’s contemporary, abstract interpretation, rendered with a deeply physical approach, and oscillating between the painterly and the sculptural. Created on the heels of Riopelle’s major solo exhibition which took place at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, and immediately following his reception of the prestigious Guggenheim International Award, both bestowed in 1958, Port Coton encapsulates the artist’s revered aesthetic and technique at the height of his creative powers.

    Having split his life between Canada and France, Riopelle was a native in the former and an adopted child of the latter, often conjoining visions of both in his animated painterly surfaces. Upon moving to Paris in 1946, he befriended such eminent figures as Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Samuel Beckett, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, and Joan Mitchell, who later became his wife. Immediately engrossed with Riopelle’s work, Breton made several attempts to convince him to adhere to the Surrealist group. “To me, this is the art of a superior trapper,” he had affirmed (André Breton, quoted in Jean-Louis Prat, “We Only Make One Step in Life”, in Riopelle: Grand Format, exh. cat., Acquavella Galleries, New York, 2009, p. 22). Yet Riopelle had no intention of associating with the group; instead, he wished to create an oeuvre entirely unique and disconnected from any principles tied to existing artistic movements. “By renouncing all perfectible images, he translated the immediacy of his feelings, letting them pour forth with a degree of force and coherence rarely seen before,” wrote Jean-Louis Prat. “All that mattered was swiftness, being in the necessity of the action” (Jean-Louis Prat, Riopelle: Grand Format, exh. cat., Acquavella Galleries, New York, 2009, p. 21).

    Turning away from Riopelle’s tight splatters of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which had earned him a comparison to the American titan Jackson Pollock, the Franco-Canadian artist instead veered towards a structure more blocky, tangible and evocative in the mid to late 1950s, which would preface his “abstract landscapism” of the 1960s. The present work deftly exemplifies this watershed moment in his practice; the quick, sharp strokes that conjure the thickly worked surface demonstrate his prodigious use of palette knives, trowels, and spatulas, as well as his adroit dashes of paint onto the canvas, to arouse the landscape elucidated in the work’s title. With its luxurious impasto, Port Coton echoes the turbulent waves crashing against the port’s shore. The passages of white in the composition recall the white sea foam surrounding the port, aptly named after the cotton that froths, here around the rock stacks during a storm. Throughout the surface, there are instances of surrealism, abstraction and automatism: all styles that Riopelle experimented with over the course of his practice. Additionally, Joan Mitchell’s colorful, compact swathes are brought to mind, traversing the surface of the canvas with similar vehemence. Notably, Port Coton coincides with the beginning of their romantic companionship, which would continue to influence both artists’ pictorial outputs until Mitchell’s death in 1979 and Riopelle’s ensuing abandonment of painting.

    By the mid to late 1950s, Riopelle was at his peak – his understanding of the application of paint and the diversity of sources for his inspiration, here most specifically alluding to Port Coton, produced his most celebrated body of work in the years running up to his prolific 1960s output. The amalgamation of visual references here translates directly on canvas through the layering of paint and the coexistence of varying textures. “If art lovers and art experts feel admiration, emotion and pleasure for Riopelle’s oil paintings, it is largely because of their materiality,” wrote Marie-Claude Corbeil. “Volume, color, glossiness and mattness all contribute to create a harmonious whole” (Marie-Claude Corbeil, “Considerations regarding Riopelle’s pictorial technique and conservation”, in Jean Paul Riopelle: Catalogue raisonné, Tome 2, 1954-1959, Montreal, 2004, p. 25).


Port Coton

signed "Riopelle" lower left
oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 63 3/4 in. (130 x 162 cm.)
Painted circa 1959.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $596,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 13 November 2019