Joan Mitchell: Artist Portrait

Joan Mitchell

Born 1926. Died 1992.

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Joan Mitchell Biography

Born in 1925 in Chicago, Illinois, painter Joan Mitchell was part of the second generation of Abstract Expressionist painters and one of the rare female artists of the time to garner equal acclaim to her male contemporaries. Mitchell first studied art and English at Smith College in Massachusetts before transferring in 1944 to the Art Institute of Chicago where she pursued painting. Upon her graduation from the Institute, she received a James Nelson Raymond Foreign Traveling Fellowship, allowing her to spend a year in France. During this trip abroad, her style became decidedly more abstract, and, once she returned to New York, she was included in the seminal 9th Street Show in 1951 alongside other Abstract Expressionist painters—such as Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg—an exhibition organized by the now famous gallerist Leo Castelli. The following year Mitchell had her first solo exhibition at the New Gallery, which was critically praised and led to a yearly exhibition at the Stable Gallery.

Even after returning to New York from her year abroad, Mitchell continued to return to France regularly, but in 1955 she relocated to France permanently. Despite being away from the New York art world that had by then fully embraced her work, Mitchell continued to paint prolifically for the next several decades until her death in 1992. Her oeuvre is somewhat unique in its overall consistency; although trendier and more popular movements and approaches proliferated in the last decades of the 20th century, Mitchell stayed true to Abstract Expressionism, developing, as critic Klaus Kertess described, “a vocabulary so completely her own that it could become ours as well.”

Today, Mitchell’s work is inseparable from the discussion of Abstract Expressionism, and her paintings have become a standard for understanding developments in mid-century painting. Her work is included in nearly all major modern art collections, some of which include the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Tate Modern, London; and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

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Artist Image: Time & Life Pictures