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The Paintings of Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell, La Grande Vallee 0, 1983 • Oil on canvas, 102 x 78 3/4 in. (259 x 200 cm) • Courtesy Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art  • Photo courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art •  • 
Joan Mitchell, La Grande Vallee 0, 1983
Oil on canvas, 102 x 78 3/4 in. (259 x 200 cm)
Courtesy Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art
Photo courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art
The Paintings of Joan Mitchell
NEW YORK  •  Whitney Museum of American Art  •  Ongoing
This retrospective of the American painter Joan Mitchell (1926-1992) covers the entire career, from the early works of 1951 until her death. Major works from the early 1950s, when she announced the quasi-landscape motif that she would later develop in a number of directions, include Cross Section of a Bridge (1951) and Rose Cottage (1953). These prepare the way for such important paintings as Hemlock (1956, owned by the Whitney), as well as Ladybug (1957) and George Went Swimming at Barnes Hole, But It Got Too Cold (1957), all large-scale works.

A decisive shift occurred in her work when she moved in 1968 from Paris to Vétheuil, on the same grounds where Claude Monet's first great garden was established. It was here that she lived out the rest of her life. This environment fostered the Sunflower series and related paintings of the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Sunflower III (1969).

The exhibition also includes several of Mitchell's monumental diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs. Mitchell began experimenting with separately stretched, adjoining panels, often in small scale, as early as the mid-1960s. One of the centerpieces of the show will be the triptych Wet Orange (1971-72). Another painting, La Vie en Rose (1979), marks the end point to the 1970s.

Three works will be shown from the series La Grande Vallée (1983-84), a cycle characterized by a singular opulence of both brushwork and palette. Little known in the United States, these elegiac and heroic paintings, which may be seen as a culmination of Mitchell's large-scale lyric works, have been exhibited and collected primarily in France.

Joan Mitchell was born on February 12, 1926, in Chicago. Her maternal grandfather, Charles Louis Strobel, was a noted structural engineer and designer of bridges, including some on the Chicago River. Marion Strobel, the artist's mother, became known for her role in co-editing, with Harriet Monroe, Poetry magazine. Poetry published work by such writers as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dylan Thomas, Thornton Wilder, and others whom Mitchell knew as a child. Mitchell's father, James Herbert Mitchell, a lifelong amateur artist, was an eminent physician. Mitchell began her studies in English at Smith College and later transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago where she studied fine art from 1944 to 1947.

In 1947 Mitchell came to New York and moved into an apartment beneath the Brooklyn Bridge with Barney Rosset, who later acquired Grove Press and became one of the country's most celebrated vanguard publishers, representing Samuel Beckett in the United States for most of Beckett's career. He and Mitchell married in 1949 after a brief period in France; they divorced in 1952.

In the early 1950s Mitchell became part of the New York art world, showing in the seminal Ninth Street Show, organized by the Artists' Club and selected by Leo Castelli. She frequented the Cedar Bar and became a close acquaintance of many of the leading artists of the day, including Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. In 1955 she met the French-Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, with whom she was to be involved romantically for many years.

From 1959 on, the year she relocated to France, virtually all her work was created there, first in Paris and then in Vétheuil, a small village an hour to the northwest of Paris. In 1982, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris mounted a Mitchell retrospective that marked the first one-person show of an American woman artist at that institution. In 1988, Mitchell was named Commandeur des Arts et Lettres by the French Minister of Culture. The following year, she was awarded the Grand Prix National de Peinture in France and, in 1991, the Grand Prix des Arts de la Ville de Paris in painting. In October 1992, shortly after visiting the Tyler Graphics workshop in Mount Kisco, New York, to complete a series of prints, Mitchell returned to Paris, where she died at the American Hospital on October 30.

The Paintings of Joan Mitchell will travel to the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama, the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (21 September 2003 - 7 January 2004), and The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.

Whitney Museum of American Art Web Site

Contact: Tel: (1) 212 570 36 76

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