Gisèle Barreau, “La Grande Vallée”, quoted in: Patricia Albers, Lady Painter: A Life, New York, 2011. p. 355
Joan Mitchell’s Untitled (1981) serves as an iconic example of the artist’s visual vocabulary of color, line, and form. Prefiguring her celebrated La Grande Vallée series that would follow two years later, Mitchell’s swift, vigorous and thick mark-making technique culminates in a luminous and buoyant image. The bold, vibrant and dynamic work exudes a gestural rhythm that fuses timeless qualities and expressive style. Layers of sunflower yellow, orange, deep blue and aquamarine intertwining brushstrokes sprinkled with patches of pale pink, and cardinal red create a dense composition in bursts of physical energy and tactility. Known for compositions of imagined landscapes and feelings evoked by nature, Mitchell expressed her intense emotions and memories through similarly intense gestures.
Mitchell moved to New York in 1950 after spending a year in France where her paintings first moved towards abstraction. She returned to Paris in 1959, taking a studio on rue Fremicourt. Several years later, in 1968, she bought a house in Vétheuil, a city outside of Paris where she lived for the remainder of her life. The beautiful French countryside became a significant source of inspiration for Mitchell and her paintings reflect observations of her natural surroundings. Like many of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, Mitchell was fascinated by the lush landscape of Vétheuil, which featured prominently in her paintings from this period. The present work is replete with bright colors, energy and excitement, combining Mitchell’s admiration of the work of Van Gogh and Monet, her interest in nature and her adept skill at expressing emotions and memories. In fact, the palette, dynamism and subject matter of Untitled (1981) evokes Van Gogh’s Irises (1889), the bright blue flowers dancing in a sunny field.
Untitled also represents a transition in the artist’s personal life. Months earlier Joan had bitterly parted ways with Jean-Paul Riopelle, her lover and companion of almost twenty-four years. 1981 represented a sort of new beginnings for Mitchell; there is a marked energy and exuberance to the lush paintings that she produced in the following years, culminating with La Grande Vallée series. The present work captures in brilliant fashion the emotional and physical recollections of the countryside she loved.
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