Joan Mitchell - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 17, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Robert Miller Gallery, New York
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1989)
    Cohen Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1994

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Joan Mitchell’s Hours, 1989, gestural brushstrokes sweep, tumble, crisscross and hover across the white ground, lyrically coalescing into an abstract landscape suffused in ultramarine blues, reds, greens and dappled with flashes of orange. Each line is powerfully laid down with a confidence and intuition that conveys the mastery of line, color, and placement Mitchell had achieved after over four decades of painting. Brimming with energy, Hours epitomizes the unrelentingly creative fervor with which Mitchell embraced radiant color and a looser formal vocabulary in her late oeuvre between 1985 and 1992. Painted just three years prior to the artist’s death, Hours belongs to the discrete body of work created in 1989 that debuted at Mitchell’s first solo exhibition at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York to rave reviews – the same year as her seminal travelling retrospective at Cornell University, Ithaca, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, and the San Francisco Museum of Art.

    Widely considered as some of the most assuredly opulent paintings in Mitchell’s oeuvre, the 1980s works have an almost weightless quality to them that eloquently articulate imagined landscapes or feelings about places Mitchell had experienced. Hours evidences the chromatic exuberance that began to figure in Mitchell’s paintings following her move to Vétheuil in the late 1960s, the same river village that had previously inspired Claude Monet. It is as if Hours breathes that very light and air, lushness and bloom, giving rise to the sensation of seeing the sky through a thicket of greenery or perhaps the reflections of nature on a rippling body water. The present work beautifully demonstrates how Mitchell’s compositions are never concrete representations, but associative, painterly approximations. As she had already explained in 1958, “I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me – and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed…” (Joan Mitchell, quoted in Judith E. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, Manchester, 1997, p. 31).

    The paintings Mitchell began to create from 1985 demonstrated a distinct departure from her earlier pictorial idiom. Employing a palette of primary colors, Mitchell began to explore the tension between the sparseness of the white pictorial ground and the thrumming energy that individual, bold brushstrokes could communicate. While Mitchell’s brushstrokes coalesced into all-over compositions in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in works such as the present one they animate the surface akin to torqueing waves. This interweaving of varied brushstrokes vividly brings to mind the late abstract landscape paintings of Willem de Kooning, Mitchell’s close friend and mentor when she lived in New York. Yet as much as Hours is a nod to Mitchell’s Abstract Expressionist predecessors, it is also a joyous homage to the artist’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist forebears, including Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh, but perhaps above all, Henri Matisse in its evocation of such works as Landscape at Collioure, 1905, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Speaking of the way Matisse put white on the canvas, Mitchell indeed acknowledged, “I wanted to put on paint like Matisse” (Joan Mitchell, quoted in “Joan Mitchell and Yves Michaud”, 1986, Joan Mitchell, Cologne, 2015, p. 57).

    Titled Hours, the present work points to Mitchell’s concern with notions of duration, a theme also alluded to in other work titles from the 1989 series, such as Lapse, Day, or Span. “Painting”, as Mitchell noted in 1986, is "the only art form except still photography which is without time…It never ends, it is the only thing that is both continuous and still” (Joan Mitchell, quoted in “Conversations with Joan Mitchell", in Joan Mitchell: New Paintings, New York, 1986, n.p.). Mitchell’s late oeuvre was characterized by a pronounced emphasis of working in discrete series, whereby key stylistic concerns were explored across several canvases. In her 1989 series, too, Mitchell’s brush rolls and lashes to convey a sense of continuous movement that goes beyond the confines of the picture plane. This desire for expansion is also conveyed through Mitchell’s use of the diptych and triptych format. As Michael Brenson noted on the occasion of their debut at the Robert Miller Gallery, these paintings “suggest scrolls without beginning or end” (Michael Brenson, “Joan Mitchell’s Abstract Expressionism”, The New York Times, November 3, 1989, online).

    The joyous, exuberant and bright paintings Mitchell created in the last years of her life belie what was a period of emotional and physical setbacks. Hours poetically marks the triumph of will over body. Indeed, despite her waning physical capabilities, Mitchell galvanized her energies in the studio, propelling the full force of her brush onto the canvas which left little margin for error. Hours and its related works, as Sandro Parmiggiani has poignantly postulated, “are the prelude to developments in her final work: the marks and brushstrokes fragment, become shorter and twist back on themselves, as if the last quivers of the artist’s life were placed in them” (Sandro Parmiggiani, “In Search of a Lost Feeling”, Joan Mitchell, Emden, 2008, p. 56). Distilling color and gesture to its sparsest and most essential expression, Hours is as much of an ode to the joy of painting as it beautifully expresses, through a heightened, dreamlike reverie, Mitchell’s remembrances of her natural and felt environment.



signed "Joan Mitchell" lower right of the right panel
oil on canvas, diptych
each 39 1/4 x 31 3/4 in. (99.7 x 80.6 cm.)
overall 39 1/4 x 63 1/2 in. (99.7 x 161.3 cm.)

Painted in 1989.

$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $2,775,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2018