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  • Provenance

    Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris
    Collection Jean Fournier and Jean-Marie Bonnet, Paris
    Artcurial Briest Le Fur Poulain F. Tajan, Paris, 28 October 2006, lot 38
    Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
    Sotheby's, New York, 14 May 2013, lot 26
    Duhamel Fine Art, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Jean Fournier, Joan Mitchell Champs, 30 May - 14 July 1990, no. 12

  • Literature

    La couleur toujours recommencée: Hommage à Jean Fournier, marchand à Paris (1922–2006), exh. cat., Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 2007, p. 143 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Painted in the final years of Joan Mitchell’s remarkable career, Champs from 1990 is a commanding testament to the creative vision and highly lauded painterly abilities that culminated with some of her strongest, most powerful work. A vibrant celebration of the physical act of painting, the present work articulates Mitchell’s fusion of disparate artistic movements to create a singular style that is entirely her own. Though the gestural style of her American contemporaries–artists such as Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning–shaped her abstract painterly idiom, Mitchell’s profound appreciation for the beauty of the natural world fostered in her a strong connection to the French Impressionists and European Post-Impressionists, whose luminous landscapes were equally influential to her work. In Champs, Mitchell draws upon a prismatic range of colours, not unlike those of Claude Monet’s late garden paintings, to create striking contrasts: bracketed on either side by pearlescent yellows and glowing whites, the central composition comprises dashing strokes of brilliant cobalt, inky blacks, verdant greens, effervescent marigolds, and juicy tomato reds. Forming what appear to be six stacked bands, the composition seems to manifest in the flat two dimensional planarity of the canvas, the impression of fields of differing flowers or even crops unfolding before the viewer. The texture of the work is similarly varied, as Mitchell showcases the remarkable range of an abstract vernacular she shaped and perfected over the decades of her prodigious practice. Not content merely with wide, sweeping brushstrokes, here she renders the paint in both staccato dashes and larger undifferentiated areas of colour, all punctuated with superbly tactile, almost rain-like, drips and splatters of paint.

    In spite of the physical limitations imposed by old age, Mitchell’s late paintings are characterised by a striking painterly bravura; remarking upon the emotional power and energy embodied in works such as Champs, Richard D. Marshall comments, 'The paintings that Joan Mitchell created in the last decade of her life reveal an artist who showed no restraint. She immersed herself in them, abandoning cognizance, rationality, and objectivity. Direct and immediate, they are the work of an artist using her failing strength and strong emotion to express her intellect and her anger, as well as the joy she derived from the very act of painting' (The Last Paintings, exh. cat., Cheim & Reid, New York, 2011, n.p.). Despite the painting’s literal title and obvious, if abstracted, allusion to the natural world, the painterly impetus is focused on the emotional undertaking of a painter completely absorbed and consumed by her process and dedication to painting. Much like an earlier practitioner who was also equally determined to render in paint emotional facets of the human condition, Mark Rothko, Mitchell was resolute not simply to paint highly abstracted impressions of the natural world. For her, the impetus was to render her own multivalent and highly-charged emotional states while also evoking in the viewer an acutely charged emotional response. Interestingly, each also found, in the hovering rectangular format, a compositional tool by which to effect this reaction. Rothko’s panes of diffuse, ethereal colour, here give way to more tangible, allusive, compositional structures redolent of those selfsame verdant fields in which Mitchell spent so much of her life.

    Those fields, and Mitchell’s deep connection to the town of Vétheuil and its attendant gardens, trees, and vantages over the River Seine, were incredible creative catalysts for the artist. As much as her contemporaries and her appreciation for the art historical canon inspired and spurred her on, much of her creative energy was fueled by her surroundings. This drive to create never waned even so late in her career. Mitchell’s dedication is manifested in her notebooks, which clearly illuminate the manner in which she was still grappling with the most poignant, emotive, and veritable ways in which to depict her chosen subjects of nature and the human condition. Perhaps it is because of her advancing age and deteriorating health that she understood and appreciated better herself and her surrounds and was ever more evocatively able to depict these motifs. Yves Michaud notes when discussing her last exhibition in France, in which this work was shown, 'Every time we think she could not do better, from La Grande Valleé of 1984 to Chords from 1987, from Chords to Mountains and Rains exhibited last fall in New York and now Champs, it is a continuous enlightenment. The poignant beauty of La Grande Valleé succeeds the dissonant lyricism of Chords and now the precise sumptuousness of Champs. It is as if there could always be more feeling, more pictorial beauty, more truth' (Yves Michaud, Champs, exh. cat., Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, 1990).

    A work of stunning visual presence, Champs broadcasts the inimitable creative spirit of an artist who, in the final years of her life, threw herself into painting with indefatigable passion, innovation, and brilliance. This particular painting was of such beauty and importance that after exhibiting it in Mitchell’s last show in France, Jean Fournier kept the work for his own personal collection. Clearly, Champs manifests, not only of the artistic impulses and influences which shaped Mitchell’s celebrated oeuvre, but the artist’s immense and unshakable passion for painting itself.

  • Artist Biography

    Joan Mitchell

    Known for her highly emotive gestural abstraction, Joan Mitchell was one of the most prominent members of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. Mitchell painted highly structured, large-scale compositions featuring vibrant, violent bursts of color and light, often influenced by landscape painting and informed by her emotional understanding of the world around her. Mitchell was one of the only female artists of her generation to achieve critical and public acclaim, and her work was featured in the famous Ninth Street Show of 1951, which introduced the world to the emerging American avant-garde. 

    Mitchell was a devoted student of art as well as a talented painter; she developed an intimate understanding of color through her admiration of the work of Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh and adapted the gestural abstraction of her day to create an art form completely her own, and continued her investigation of abstraction for the rest of her career. Her work has influenced subsequent generations of artists and is featured in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, and many of the world’s most distinguished institutions. 

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Property from a Distinguished European Collection



signed 'Joan Mitchell' lower right; further inscribed 'Simple' on the reverse
oil on canvas
240 x 200 cm (94 1/2 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1990.

£2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for £3,189,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2018