Artwork by Jean Paul Riopelle,  Dieppes

Jean P. Riopelle

oil on canvas
signed lower right; signed, titled and dated “66” on the reverse
23.5 x 28.75 ins ( 59.7 x 73 cms )

Auction Estimate: $200,000.00$150,000.00 - $200,000.00

Price Realized $130,500.00
Sale date: December 3rd 2020

Galerie Maeght, Paris
Private Collection, Montreal
Gilbert Érouart, “Riopelle in Conversation”, trans. Donald Winkler, Toronto, 1995, pages 46-47
Yseult Riopelle, “Jean Paul Riopelle: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 4, 1966- 1971”, Montreal, 2014, reproduced page 89, catalogue no. 1966.007H.1966
Jean Paul Riopelle’s reputation as an avant-garde painter was established in Canada, Europe, and increasingly in New York City through the 1950s. Working in Paris since the late 1940s, he represented Canada in the Bienal de São Paulo in 1951 and 1955 and at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and 1962. He showed in the Younger European Painters exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1953; the Guggenheim soon purchased one of his works. He exhibited with the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York from 1954, embodying that gallery’s goal to introduce post World War II European art into an ascendant American context focused on Abstract Expressionism.

The 1960s was for Riopelle a time of consolidation, both of his unique technique and his growing fame. He also returned to Québec frequently in the 1960s and eventually resettled in that province. “Dieppes” exemplifies his work at this time. As bold and experimental as ever, Riopelle displays a confidence of approach and a mastery of paint application. “Dieppes” is prodigiously dynamic: shapes emerge, overlap, and mingle as they construct a multi-layered topography of pigment. Colour is suppressed across the full surface so that the flashes of red and orange stand out. This intermittent, crepuscular colour underlines the fact that this is a painting whose drama lies in its extreme tonal range, from deep black lozenge shapes to intense whites. More fluid than many of his ‘mosaic’ works of the 1950s, the surface seems to require the internal frame of black that forms an internal border. Riopelle has signed his name to this feature in the lower right.

Exuberant as the surface of “Dieppes” is, Riopelle denied that he worked with a sort of Surrealist abandon. He had been associated with André Breton, the ‘pope’ of Surrealism, but was happily excommunicated from this allegiance well before the 1960s. In 1966, however, a French critic was still looking back to this time when he wrote that “Riopelle works in a state of crisis, a sort of hypnotic fury and abandon.” When this judgement was put to the artist in an interview decades later, he disagreed. “That wasn’t my way,” he claimed. “Georges Mathieu worked hard and fast. Not Riopelle.” Riopelle was not one to perform abstraction, as Mathieu notoriously did for live audiences, nor was he an ‘action painter’ in the American mold. While not planned and certainly passionate in its application, “Dieppes” is in all senses ‘composed.’ It is carefully balanced in terms of gesture, tone, and colour. And there is the stabilizing frame within a frame.

The uncontrived painterliness of “Dieppes” invites our minute attention. Forms shift, layers accrete. We can readily become optical archaeologists, delving into the complex welter of multi-coloured and variously light and dark forms. It is pleasurably impossible to measure scale or find one’s bearings when ‘inside’ a painting of this sort.

We extend our thanks to Dr. Mark A. Cheetham, professor of art history at the University of Toronto and author of “Abstract Art Against Autonomy: Infection, Resistance, and Cure since the ‘60s” (Cambridge University Press), for contributing the preceding essay.

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Jean Paul Riopelle
(1923 - 2002) Les Automatistes, RCA, SCA

Born in 1923, Jean Paul Riopelle is one of Canada’s most significant artists from the twentieth century. Born in Montréal, Quebec, Riopelle was educated at the Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague school. In 1936, he began taking painting and drawing classes on the weekends that Henri Bisson, a sculptor who often drew from life, taught in the Riopelle family home. Much of Riopelle’s early works can be traced to his time spent learning under Bisson and are attempts at direct representations from life. For example, Nature bien morte (1942) is a copy of Bisson’s work. Riopelle, advised by his parents, enrolled in the École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1941 to study architecture and engineering. However, he did poorly in his courses and enrolled in the École des beaux-arts and then the École du meuble.

At the École du meuble, Riopelle was taught by Paul-Émile Borduas. Initially, Riopelle could not let go of the academic style taught to him by Bisson in favor of Borduas’ abstract style. Eventually, inspired by automatic writing and painting exercises Riopelle embraced his unconscious imagination and began working in an abstract style. Riopelle was also inspired by the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. In 1944, he produced his first abstracted work in Saint-Fabien. The painting, now lost, was a representation of a water hole left on the shore of the Saint Lawrence River. Riopelle, alongside other young Automatistes, spent part of the winter of 1944-45 with Borduas in Mont-Saint-Hilaire exploring radical ideas about art and politics, which would eventually manifest themselves in the Refus global manifesto.

In early 1946, Riopelle took part in the first Automatistes exhibition, Exposition de peinture, in Montréal. In the same year, Riopelle travelled to France for the first time while working as a horse groomer and became enamored by paintings of horses by Théodore Géricault and by Impressionist works at the Musée de l’Orangerie. Riopelle returned to France in December 1946 and met André Breton who invited Riopelle to participate in a Surrealist exhibition in the following year. Because Breton was somewhat dismissive of the Automatistes, Riopelle was the only Automatistes to participate in the Exposition international du surréalisme in 1947. Inspired by the French Surrealists, upon Riopelle’s return to Canada he encouraged the Automatistes to produce their own manifesto. The manifesto, Refus global, was an anarchistic proclamation published in 1948.

Georges Mathieu invited Riopelle to participate in an international exhibition titled Véhémences confrontées alongside Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Feeling detached from Breton’s Surrealism Riopelle began producing a body of work that would eventually be known as mosaics. Favoring a pallet knife over a brush, Riopelle was renown through the 1950s for his larger than life canvases. In the summer of 1960, Riopelle began sculpting. Riopelle represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1962; exhibiting both paintings and bronze cast sculptures earning him the UNESCO Prize. After appearing in the Venice Biennale, throughout the late 1960s, Riopelle began working in a fragmented style that is reminiscent of collages. In 1969, Riopelle began working on La Joute, which would eventually be installed in the Olympic Park at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montréal. The installation features a fountain surrounded by abstract animal and human figures.

Beginning in the 1980s, numerous Canadian institutions began retrospective exhibitions of Riopelle’s work, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, and the Art Gallery of Peterborough. The Musée national d’art modern de Paris organized a retrospective of his work that would travel to Montréal, Mexico City, and Caracas, Venezuela. In 1981, Riopelle was presented the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas due to his contributions to cultural life.

Literature Source:
Gagnon, François-Marc. Jean Paul Riopelle: Life and Work. Art Canada Institute, 2019

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.