Jean-Paul Riopelle - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • With its striking composition of viscous, thickly applied oil paint, Ariane is an early painting that evokes Jean-Paul Riopelle’s formative interest in Surrealism. Executed in 1950, three years after the French-Canadian artist moved to Paris, and one year after his first Parisian solo exhibition at the Surrealist Galerie La Dragonne, Ariane displays the rich impasto and chromatic vibrancy that define Riopelle’s mature work. Ariane represents the artist’s lasting contribution to Lyrical Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism’s Parisian counterpart; works from the early 1950s, thus, are some of the most significant and desirable of Riopelle’s career.


    Giorgio di Chirico, Ariadne, 1913. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome  

    The work’s title, Ariane, references the Ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur in the labyrinth—in the myth, the heroine, Ariane (or Ariadne), gifts a magical ball of thread to the hero, Theseus, to ensure he does not get lost in the monster’s maze. For Riopelle, the reference is twofold: as a younger artist, Riopelle was inspired by the Surrealists, including those who contributed to the popular periodical, Minotaure (1933-1939). Many Surrealists, including Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, were inspired in turn by Giorgio di Chirico, who made a series of paintings that featured Ariane. On a formal level, the thread of Ariane can be said to guide the viewer through the composition of Ariane, in the thin white, yellow and blue lines of paint that track through Riopelle’s thick and shining impasto. These light lines, straight as taught threads, are a visual aid through the mass of squared marks—deep red, pale blue, greenish yellow, ultramarine, white, and black—that streak across the canvas.


    Riopelle abandoned both figuration and his traditional painter’s tools when he moved to Paris in 1947. In lieu of applying paint with a brush, Riopelle used palette knives and spatulas to spread paint in staccato marks on his canvases. However, he continued to paint on an easel, akin to the practices of Impressionist Claude Monet, and Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne, both of whom Riopelle admired. When painting, Riopelle was known to enter a trance-like state—“exuberant and magically alive with the burden of all that was about to be transcribed into painting,” Pierre Boudreau once witnessed, like “a warrior about to do battle.”i Each emotional and physical impulse informed the application of paint to canvas. In this sense, paintings like Ariane further the Surrealist concepts of automatism (intuitive mark making) and the role of the subconscious in art.


    Claude Monet, The Rose Path at Giverny, 1920-1922. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris. Image: Bridgeman Images

    Riopelle’s unconventional tools gives the surface of Ariane a square, almost sculptural quality, like bricks or tiles, which art historian Georges Duthuit identified as “mosaic” in nature. Riopelle’s painted geometry gave his works a structure, which led to more harmonious and organized, and yet vibrant and expressive compositions; with Ariane, for instance, the thread-like lines of paint snap the disparate blocks of color together like a grid.


    “Riopelle painted tableaux that were textured with thick pastes, applied with a brush and more and more often with a spatula, and these depths, already bubbling with colors, were then slashed in all directions by fine spurts of paint whose network constitutes a kind of jazz rhythm: jerky, syncopated, muscular.”
    —Guy Robert


    The formal, gestural, and indeed, textural innovations realized in Ariane are indicative of the generative nature of the Post-War Parisian art scene. An international milieu of artists, including Riopelle, Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock, and Joan Mitchell, among others, came together with writers and philosophers in a rich exchange of ideas in the French capital. For Riopelle, Mitchell would prove to be the most significant of these connections, as the two artists, who first met in 1955, had a turbulent relationship that lasted into the late 1970s. Their romance grew out of a mutual artistic influence; Ariane, with its lyricism and deep impasto, perhaps conveys the artistic qualities Mitchell would come to admire in Riopelle.ii It was the palette knife, however, that was Riopelle’s ultimate legacy. As Mitchell wrote to him in 1958, “last night I painted eight pictures… some were grey and dark and had an influence of someone I know in Paris—including a palette knife.”iii



    i Pierre Boudreau, Riopelle, exh. cat., Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, 1959, n.p.

    ii Éric de Chassey, “A Country of Her Own: Joan Mitchell and France, 1948-1967,” in Sarah Roberts and Katy Siegel, eds., Joan Mitchell, exh. cat., The San Francisco Museum of Art and Baltimore Museum of Art, 2020, p. 90.

    iii Joan Mitchell, quoted ibid.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice

    • Provenance

      John Peter Warren Cochrane, London (gifted by the artist)
      Martin Summers Fine Art Ltd, London (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005

    • Exhibited

      London, Arthur Tooth & Sons, J-P. Riopelle: Paintings 1949-1959, June 23–July 18, 1959, no. 15, n.p. (illustrated)
      Amstelveen, Cobra Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Paris Central, Vrije stad, vrije kunst in de jaren '50, October 24, 2009– January 17, 2010, pp. 6, 157 (illustrated, p. 6; dated 1949)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 418–419, 504–505, 561 (illustrated in the inverse orientation, p. 505; detail illustrated, p. 418; dated 1949)




oil on canvas
23 3/4 x 14 7/8 in. (60.3 x 37.8 cm)
Painted in 1950.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $1,330,500

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023