Joan Mitchell - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2012 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Galerie Janie C. Lee, Houston
    Xavier Fourcade Inc., New York
    First City Bancorporation of Texas, Houston
    Will Ameringer Fine Art, Inc., New York
    Collection Advanta, 1998
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Houston, Janie C. Lee Gallery, Joan Mitchell: New Paintings, October 16, 1981– November 18, 1981

  • Literature

    M. Crossley, “Renews in the Galleries,” Houston Post, October 23, 1981, p. 14
    J. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, pp. 176-178 (illustrated)
    M. Waldberg, Joan Mitchell, Paris, 1992, pp. 168-169 and 343 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Being an outsider anyway i.e. painter and having become even more so, foreigner, in a foreign country, I wonder…Yet I feel American whatever that means, perhaps just a label—but no—a feeling—and an objectivity.

    (Joan Mitchell, in P. Albers, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, A Life, New York, 2011, p. 362).

    Joan Mitchell’s singular contribution in the second half of the Twentieth Century has engendered an influence that is difficult to overestimate. The inspiration she drew from her artistic surroundings provided her with the emotional connection to fuel her subtle and energetic compositions. Mitchell’s harmonious use of color is an unleashed expression of the feelings she uses to pant them. In The Lake, 1981, we find Mitchell at her most reflective, handling light and sentiment in concert.

    Rising to prominence as a student of the American Abstract Expressionist movement in the late 1940s, Mitchell exploded onto the scene with the 1951’s Ninth Street Show. Curated by Leo Castelli, the show consolidated the work of prominent New York School artists for the first time. Mitchell’s painting hung among those of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and many others, establishing her place in this formidable field.

    Throughout the next two decades, Mitchell’s personal life took many twists and turns, including an extended relationship with Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle. Mitchell’s work seemed to reflect the intricacies of her relationships with others—thick swaths of blue and yellow intertwined, mimicking the complexity of her deepest emotions and innermost feelings. Mitchell often asserted the intentionality of every stroke, that her work was not simply blind experimentation in action painting.

    Mitchell’s vision was not sealed off from the external world; it was not a solipsistic pursuit. She often took inspiration from natural beauty, painting impressions of myriad landscapes, flowers, and other environmental sources of color and surface. Prompted by her tumultuous relationship with Riopelle, in 1968, she moved to France permanently with him. Though she lived in Vetheuil, the former home of Claude Monet, she often deflected questions that implied his influence. Instead, Mitchell chose
    to be guided by Vincent van Gogh. Indeed, throughout Mitchell’s work in the 1960s and 1970s, we begin to see greater thickness of brushstrokes, containing the lush and unapologetic textures of the Dutch painter. Yet, as her relationship with Riopelle disintegrated, Mitchell’s work became more infrequent. She relied increasingly on her many close companions for support, and her paintings change in market tone from 1970s to the 1980s.

    The present lot, The Lake, 1981, comes at the peak of Mitchell’s reinvention of her own hand. Spanning across the space of twelve horizontal feet, Mitchell’s four-paneled canvas presents us with a dramatic visual presentation. Reigning hues of midnight and cerulean blue consume the primary impact of the picture, while Mitchell’s bands of pitch black and white create a chromatic relationship in the painting that is moving in its elegance. Indeed, the artist painted her four panels similarly in their descent: the top of the panels house thickly laid turquoises and cobalt blue, lending the surface of the lake a certain placidity of mood. Yet as we travel down the space of the panels, Mitchell’s dark ribbons interrupt the space with a churning storm of saturation, suggesting that we are moving from calm to turbulence. Perhaps the lake itself has been besieged with the violence of a tempest. Yet at the bottom of her picture, and in the central panels in particular, Mitchell has brought us back the placidity she had just taken away, in the form of the brightness of unprimed canvas. Each of the four panels possesses its own distinct personality. The left of the these two panels is strict in its chromatic borders; the many shades of blue display a remarkable amount of self-discipline, striking a clear contrast with the area of black below it. In turn, the primed surface below the black keeps to itself, refusing to mix with its forceful upstairs neighbor. Yet the panel to the right has a wonderful mix of all three colors in its lower half, proving that these colors can sometimes live within each other in harmony.

    The complex combination of colors provides a window into Mitchell’s psychology at its creation. On the whole, the deep blue hues of sorrow above clash with the more violent appearance of black below. Yet all the while, they dance upon a bed of soft white reflection. Her lake is a sea of remembrance. Visible in each respective panel, Mitchell’s colors can live within and interspersed with each other. On occasion, the colors mix to the point of indeterminate hue. The expanse of a lake, with its volatile surface and constantly changing colors makes for a perfect representation of an inner life. The present lot’s beauty comes from Mitchell’s brutal honesty; The Lake, 1981 is a vision of the artist at her most creative and most tender.


The Lake

oil on canvas, in four parts
overall: 53 x 153 in. (134.6 x 388.6 cm)
Signed and dated “Joan Mitchell 81” lower right; each panel respectively inscribed “A-D” on the reverse.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $1,762,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

15 November 2012
New York