Painted in 1973.
Robert Miller Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1990)
Acquired by the present owner from the above in November 1996
New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, Gallery Selections: 20th Century European and American Masters, September - October 1993
Joan Mitchell established her career among the New York Abstract Expressionists with several exhibitions at the Stable Gallery between 1953 and 1965. During this time her work was aggressive and free wheeling. In 1959, Mitchell moved to Paris where Lawrence Rubin helped her gain European exposure and showed her work at his gallery. In Paris, her work clearly shifted to a more subtle and delicate lyrical style. While Mitchell's earlier work was alluring for its violence and feverish energy, the later paintings of the 1970s and 1980s are more literally attractive – they pull in the viewer and seduce us with all-consuming color and shimmering gesture. There is an undeniable harmony and grace to the work, a balance due perhaps to age, experience and a new source of inspiration. The apparent ease and quieter application of paint in Untitled from 1973 is unmatched in her earlier works. The canvas is ethereal and luminous.
In 1968, Mitchell moved from Paris and settled permanently at her summer home in the French countryside town of Vétheuil. Personal struggles and tragedies had great influence on her paintings of the 1960s and her move to Vétheuil brought about a brighter and more ordered nature to her compositions. In the present work, white seems to be the artist's source of light – the thin veils of paint create an airiness. Like early morning mist rising off of the surface of a lake, Mitchell's overlapping brushstrokes and pale hues express the artist's desire to achieve a harmony between nature and the psyche. Mitchell grew up in the Midwest of America and deeply identified with vastness. Her paintings from her time in the country channeled this affinity. The Territory and Field Paintings in particular set the stage for the present work. Jane Livingston describes these works, "They range not only from heavily impastoed textures to the opposite but also from densely organized compositions to 'open' ones, sometimes using whites in ways that are almost impossibly difficult. But it was not only space, or 'territory', that she was concerned with in these works. She was dealing more and more searchingly with light." (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, 2002, p. 35). In the present work, Mitchell remarkably captures the luminosity she so voraciously craved.
Mitchell and Monet shared more commonalities than their chosen location of Vétheuil – both artists modified physical and emotional environments by using light as a subject. Monet's subtle changes to the texture of paint achieved a mysterious quality to the overall atmosphere for the viewer. Mitchell's choice of color in the 1960s favored harsher primary colors and blacks, yet by the 1970s she turned to complex colors that were grounded in French modernism – colors such as cornflower blue, lavender and pale pink and green as seen in the present work. The veils of color are reminiscent of Rothko's palette from the 1960s, whose method was also inspired by Claude Monet's seductive atmospheric landscapes. All three artists were concerned with time of day and quality of light and color, and wielded these elements with enormous creativity and skill to create a dream-like sanctuary for the viewer. Untitled is a precursor to Mitchell's monumental series La Grande Vallée of 21 paintings created between 1983 and 1984 where her idyllic vision of the lightness and eternal paradise of youth prevailed. Untitled shares with the Grande Vallée paintings a bilateral symmetrical balance and the importance of the color blue. In the later paintings Mitchell would shift to all-over painting with heavily impastoed varying hues of blue.
Joan Mitchell's paintings continually reveal a sense of excitement and clarity, and a daring exploration of color, form, and reference. Since the beginnings of her career, Mitchell advanced and enhanced the realization of her individual aesthetic vision, and consequently brought to completion a career characterized by invention, risk, continuity, and brilliance. Just as there are poets who work with the pictorial quality of language, stressing the manner in which words evoke sensual realities beyond their defined meanings, there are painters who subject their medium to the vast associations that exist beyond the visual. Joan Mitchell is just such a painter, whose structural approach to composition is lyrical in the extreme with a strict control over positive and negative space, chromatic sensibilities and the treatment of light.
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