Robert Bernier et al., Riopelle, des Visions d'Amérique, Les Editions de l'Homme, Montréal, 1997, p. 99, reproduced in colour.
Yseult Riopelle, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Catalogue Raisonné: Tome 2, 1954-1959, Switzerland/Montréal, 2004, p. 297, no. 1958.059H.1958, reproduced in colour.
While there are curators, collectors, and dealers who maintain that Riopelle's best work was done between 1948-9 and 1953-4, there is ample evidence of great power in his works of the later 1950s and beyond, which almost as often show a wandering search for a new vein of inspiration.
This particular painting from 1958 is ambitious, experimental, and brimming with energy. The large central image is something of a departure for Riopelle at this juncture, since he had been painting 'all over' canvases for the best part of a decade. Nevertheless, the centre-stage composition was an emerging characteristic of his work during these and subsequent years, and this picture demonstrates how successful such a goal can be, when control and attention to the whole surface is focused and animated.
The dark ground surrounding the central light-coloured block, which is itself divided by lines, shapes, and colours, recedes from our immediate attention. Close examination, however, shows that the artist has been careful to give this less prominent area its own distinct handling. The perimeter does not compete with the bright image; rather, it provides a setting for it.
It is possible Riopelle had seen Paul-Émile Borduas' impressive black and white paintings, such as Bombardement (lot 37), also of 1958, and been struck by his old colleague's innovation. This painting is similarly theatrical, with its high contrast of light and dark. In this respect, it perfectly fits Riopelle's sense of drama, which one can say is what all his great work is about.
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