Lot 125
  • 125


2,800,000 - 4,500,000 HKD
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  • Jean-Paul Riopelle
  • Untitled
  • oil on canvas
  • 91 by 110.5 cm; 35⅞ by 43½ in.
signed and dated 57Executed circa 1960


Private Collection
Briest, Paris, 7 June 2000, lot 8
Private Collection
Sotheby's, Paris, 3 December 2014, lot 24
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner Executed circa 1960, this work is accompanied with a certificate of authenticity issued by Yseult Riopelle

Catalogue Note

When I hesitate, I do not paint. When I paint, I do not hesitate.

Jean-Paul Riopelle

Kaleidoscopic Iridescence

A mesmerizing chromatic symphony of gradated jewel hues, Untitled by Jean-Paul Riopelle illuminates itself from within – held sublimely aloft by its incessant internal tension between abstraction and landscape. Executed with a palette knife, Untitled exhibits shifting staccato daubs of colour that emerge and recede into each other, manifesting a dynamically vibrating kaleisoscopic surface akin to a stained glass window crisscrossed by a white zenith light. By squeezing pigment directly from the tube and spreading paint with a knife, Riopelle’s method is at once explosive and ritualistic – driven by a nimble virtuosic grace, he orchestrates different levels of depth and tonal density to achieve highly charged yet lithe and elegant works. The present Untitled was executed in 1960, an era in which Riopelle’s painterly language began to connote an “abstract landscapism” – abstraction with a gradually more defined sense of figure and ground. The work is an exquisite example of the artist’s painterly maturity, whereby his distribution of knifestrokes are more tightly knitted and interlaced. A year after the present work was created, Riopelle would receive the highly esteemed Guggenheim International Prize which is testament to the artist's prominence in the avant-garde art scene.

Born in Montreal in 1923, Riopelle’s distinctive and unique vision was evident from an early stage when he withdrew from École des beaux-arts de Montréal after only a year of study, citing its excessively academic and constrained curriculum as a hindrance to his creation. He later enrolled into the École du Meuble where he became a student of Paul-Émile Borduas – founder of Les Automatistes, a group of Quebecois dissident artists influenced by Surrealism, and the main proponent of the Refus global (‘Total refusal’) – a manifesto that rejected academic training in favour of abstract painting driven by the creative subconscious. Riopelle relocated to Paris in 1947 and settled in the city, immediately participating proactively in the avocation of the abstract painterly style alongside key European and American artists including Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu, Sam Francis and his long-time lover, Joan Mitchell. In the summer of 1947 Riopelle organized an exhibition of Canadian avant-garde artists at the Parisian Galerie du Luxembourg; in the same year he was included in what is now hailed as the last major show of the Surrealist movement, the Exposition internationale du surrealism (International exhibition of Surrealism) at Galerie Maeght, Zurich, organised by Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp. In December 1947, Mathieu included Riopelle in L’Imaginaire (‘The Imaginary’) at Galerie du Luxembourg. The exhibition was the first exhibition for Lyrical Abstraction; in his introduction, Jean Jose Marchand used the expression ‘lyrical abstractivism’ and concludes: “As of now, the way is open. It’s up to the painters to show us how they use this liberty”. Thereafter, Riopelle pioneered a style of painting where large quantities of dense exuberant colour were thickly applied to the canvas, often via three or four tubes of paint a time, and then scraped with a spatula or a palette knife. Poised between spontaneity and restraint, intuition and composed control, Riopelle achieved a unique aesthetic with distinctive volume of impasto, exuberance of colour and ‘gloss’ of reflected light. The resulting compositions propose an abstract suggestion of landscape, with the imprints of figuration flitting in and out of the abstracted arrangements of colour and texture. Firmly established and immersed within the School of Paris, from the 1950s onwards Riopelle enjoyed increasing success within the Parisian art scene; furthermore he was represented in New York and participated in Venice Biennale (1954) and Sao Paolo Biennale (1955).

At the end of the 1950s, around the time the present work was created, Riopelle was said to have dwelled at length on what his friend Georges Duthuit wrote about his work; specifically, the critic said that he saw in Riopelle’s works an “uncontrollable search for the image […] up to the very titles [of his paintings]”. Perhaps in response, Riopelle was quoted to have said: “There is no abstraction or figuration: there is only expression and expressing oneself, it is about placing oneself in front of things. To abstract means to take away, to isolate, to separate whilst I try to do the contrary, to add, to approach, to link”. Distancing himself from rhetoric and theory, Riopelle continued on his own singular artistic vision that celebrated the pure materiality and luminesce of nature and pigment. Riopelle continued to shine in decades that followed. He was awarded UNESCO prize at the Venice Biennale In 1962, followed by the Order of Canada in 1969 and the Philippe Hébert Prize in 1973. His works are held in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Tate Gallery in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, among others.