Artwork by Jean Paul Riopelle,  Sans titre, 1970

Jean P. Riopelle
Sans titre, 1970

oil on board
11.75 x 6.75 ins ( 29.8 x 17.1 cms )

Auction Estimate: $50,000.00$30,000.00 - $50,000.00

Price Realized $52,800.00
Sale date: December 3rd 2020

From the artist’s estate by descent to Yseult Riopelle
Private Collection, Toronto
Guy Cogeval and Stéphane Aquin, “Riopelle”, Montreal, 2006, page 86
François-Marc Gagnon, “Jean-Paul Riopelle: Life & Work” [online publication], Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2019, page 65
Yseult Riopelle, “Jean Paul Riopelle: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 4, 1966-1971”, Montreal, 2014, reproduced page 226, catalogue no. 1970.015H.1970
A prominent member of the Automatistes and signatory of the Refus Global, Jean Paul Riopelle was a lifelong avant-garde and experimental artist. Riopelle’s works are both expressive and formal, responding to the art historical and socio-political environment of the post-war era, unique from his abstract-expressionist peers. Jeffery Spalding writes on the artist’s work: “Each and every painting was an individual creation, not merely a member of a set or series. Yet, simultaneously each painting remained unquestionably identifiable as signature-brand Riopelle.”

In contrast to his monumental canvases of the previous two decades, “Sans titre” (1970) is a much more intimate work. The painting is simultaneously controlled and spontaneous in its paint application. It acknowledges the marvelous mosaic style for which Riopelle is best-known, with palette knife strokes creating layers of vertical bands in the upper portion of the panel. “Sans titre” (1970) also shows how Riopelle’s approach evolved throughout the mid-to-late sixties. François-Marc Gagnon writes: “Gone are the separate and distinct tiles of the mosaic works of the 1950s, that sense of an artist in search of a loss of vision and line. They are replaced with something new; now, the viewer can follow the path of the palette knife as it moves, leaving trails that sometimes look as if a finger has been drawn through the material. [...] The coloured areas are also more varied, resulting in a composition full of new possibilities.” This description applies to “Sans titre” (1970), with the dominating blue stripe changing from a structured palette stroke to a wavy ribbon as the eye descends the composition.

This oil painting dates to 1970, marking the beginning of Riopelle’s renewed interest in Canada. After spending the majority of his career in France, in 1969 the artist was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, and began to spend more time in his native Quebec. That same year, he experimented with sculptural installations, including a fountain in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, titled “La joute”. Following many extended stays in his home province, Riopelle set up a studio for himself in 1974 in the Laurentian town of Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac- Masson, where he would spend much of his late career.

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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.