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  • Provenance

    Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Jean Fournier, Joan Mitchell – La Grande Vallée, 29 May – 15 July, 1984; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 20 June – 29 September, 2002; Birmingham Museum of Art, 27 June  – 31 August, 2003; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 21 September, 2003 - 7 January, 2004; Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection, 14 February – 16 May , 2004; The Paintings of Joan Mitchell

  • Literature

    Exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, New York, 2002, p. 175 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Joan Mitchell became known for her ability to produce paintings that seduce her viewers with their beautiful pallet and unique ability to represent an unsettled emotion with a sensitivity that that leaves her audience longing for more. The present lot is part of a series titled La Grande Vallée created in a period of just over a year; these twenty-one paintings constitute one of Mitchell’s largest bodies of work.   

    The title La Grande Vallée comes from a story told to Mitchell by her close friend Gisèle Barreau, who grew up thirty miles west of Nantes, in Brittany, France. As a child Gisèle discovered a beautiful hidden valley some eight miles from her house. The valley provided a refuge from her troubles at home; there she spent some of the most precious days of her childhood. Local villagers had referred to this spot as “La Grande Vallée” since the 1950s. It was wild and untouched land that could be explored by only those who knew the location of the secret entrance. Gisèle’s grandmother had introduced her to the valley, telling her how to find it: “When you see the big oak tree, turn left, step over the log, pass the abandoned barn, and then make your way through the opening in the bushes to the right.” Gisèle would ride her bicycle to this heaven free from cars and people. One could not see the Loire but could feel its dampness in the air and in the ground, and the reeds signaled that the river was nearby.

    The Valley was undisturbed except for the cows that grazed on its grass, the insects whose buzz filled the air, and the eight-year-old girl who roamed its expanse. Gisèle could walk or ride all day long and still not pass the same spot twice. Tall blades of green grass, fields of yellow dandelions, and other brightly colored wildflowers formed the vast terrain that enveloped the timid little girl. Here she conversed with the animals from sunset to sundown, enjoying the daily symphonies performed by birds, frogs, insects, and the wind in the trees. For Gisèle, who was to become a distinguished musician and composer, the valley offered a rich acoustic environment and a visual pageant of seasonal colors: deep blues, bright oranges and yellows, cobalt violet, green, and pink.

    The only person with whom Gisèle shared her secret was her cousin Jean-Philippe. There was a special bond between the two cousins, and Gisèle knew the innocent Jean-Philippe would immediately sense the magic of the Grande Vallée. Together the two children explored its every corner; it became their shared paradise. When she was ten, Gisèle was sent away to boarding school in Nantes, and her visits to the valley became less frequent. In fact her last visit occurred when she was a young teenager. Nevertheless, to this day Gisèle preserves the tender image of the Grande Vallée in her mind and her heart.  (Y. Lee, Description of Gisèle Barreau’s memories of the Grande Vallée is based on the author’s with Barreau, May 31, 2001.)   

    The innocence, joy and complete and utter freedom from all the restraint of society felt by Mitchells friend are captured with resounding beauty and incredible intimacy in this stunning painting, La Grande Vallée XIII.  This lot, with its vibrant and lyrical brushstrokes is completely activated with colour and movement could certainly be read as a literal celebration of life, tranquility, and beauty. While the painting is not representational landscape, the organic pallet and the fullness of the quality radiates with the same dream-like quality of Gisèle’s remembrance of the valley, it is Mitchell’s masterful control over her medium that makes this so amazing and true. The vibrancy of the central yellow perfectly evokes the glorious dandelions of the valley, brought to life in a flurry of freedom that can only be found in the memories of childhood. The style of Mitchell’s painting, particularly within this lot, is highly reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh, an artist that Mitchell held on the highest of pedestals ever since her childhood.
    It is also possible that Mitchell was seeking the same refuge through her paintings as her dear friend Gisèle found in the valley. The suite of paintings came at a period of incredible grief for the artist as in July 1982 Jean Phillipe passed away before ever being able to return to the place of his childhood happiness, La Grande Vallée also only three days later Mitchells sister, to whom she was very close to passed away. This was a traumatic time for the artist which prompted the artist to create something that encapsulated the luminosity and freedom of childhood. These paintings are overflowing with life and can be seen as Mitchell’s ability to overcome morality, Mitchell saw painting as venue to transcend death, it permits one to survive it also permits one to live.” ( Joan Mitchell: Choix de peintures 1970-1982, exh. Cat., Paris 1982)

  • 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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La Grande Vallée XIII

Oil on canvas.
279.4 x 200 cm. (110 x 78 ¾ in).
Signed 'Joan Mitchell' lower right.

£2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

18 Oct 2008, 7pm