Artwork by Jean Paul Riopelle,  Sans titre, 1953

Jean Paul Riopelle
Sans titre, 1953

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1953 lower right; catalogue raisonne no. 1953.058H.1953
28.5 x 21 ins ( 72.4 x 53.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $700,000.00$500,000.00 - $700,000.00

Price Realized $552,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris
Christie’s, auction, London, 27 October 1994, lot 72
Private Collection
Benjamin Proust Fine Art Limited, London
Sotheby’s, auction, London, 2 July 2008, lot 165
Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg
Private Collection, Hong Kong
Yseult Riopelle, “Jean Paul Riopelle: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 1, 1939-1953”, Montreal, 1999, reproduced page 390, catalogue no.1953.058H.1953
François-Marc Gagnon, “Jean Paul Riopelle: Life & Work” [online publication], Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2019, pages 15 and 64
A prominent member of the Automatistes and a signatory of the Refus Global, Jean Paul Riopelle was a lifelong avant-garde and experimental artist. His works are both expressive and formal, responding to the art historical and socio-political environment of the post-war era. Among the avant-garde Quebec abstract artists, Riopelle was the most celebrated figure on the international scene. He first travelled to France in 1946 and returned to Montreal for only a few months before settling in Paris until the 1970s. Riopelle soon met the Parisian art dealer Pierre Loeb, owner of Galerie Pierre, who promoted major Surrealist and Cubist artists, including Picasso and Miró. It was through Loeb that Riopelle met André Breton, who invited Riopelle to participate in the major Surrealist exhibition of June 1947 held at the Galerie Maeght.

The 1950s brought much success for Riopelle due to increased contact with prominent members of the New York School and international art scene. In 1951 his work was included in the international exhibition, “Véhémences confrontées (Confronted Vehemence)”, alongside Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and others. Participation in this show led Riopelle, who was already starting to feel detached from Surrealism, to embark on a new body of work that would come to be known as the “mosaics.” The mosaic effect in Riopelle’s paintings is derived from his use of the palette knife to directly apply paint on the canvas, giving each dab of colour a sculptural quality. For Riopelle, the brush had become a limitation and hindrance as he moved toward increasingly ambitious abstract compositions. “Sans titre”, 1953 uses this signature technique, with a mosaic-like arrangement of palette knife strokes in black, white and red. In certain areas, black or white were the dominant colour used on the palette knife, intersecting and overlapping with each other, revealing in some areas various shades of grey. Accents of pure red are dispersed throughout the composition; in some areas it is subtly blended into the palette knife stroke together with black and white.

The palette knife added an element of chance to Riopelle’s mosaic works. He piled on various coloured pigments straight from the tube, and each time the paint was pushed across the canvas, the colours formed a different and unique outcome. François-Marc Gagnon points out that much earlier in the painter’s career, Riopelle had called for “hasard total,” or “absolute chance,” as the basis for a work of art, likely foreshadowing the direction he would take in his mature works, particularly the mosaics. Sans titre embodies this spontaneous arrangement of colours that is created with the palette knife. Yet the composition is also controlled, with a consistent paint application and deliberate structure.

This masterwork was completed in 1953, shortly after Riopelle’s friend Henri Fara lent him his studio in Montmartre. “This is the first time I’ve had a workshop of my own,” the artist confessed. The canvas was likely painted in this studio, which enabled him to have a place to experiment and pursue his artistic expression without any interruption. He exhibited many of his mosaic works at the Galerie Pierre Loeb in May of 1953. For Pierre Schneider, this decisive exhibition was the starting point for Riopelle’s recognition in Paris: “Unknown in 1947, exhibiting only in small galleries on the Left Bank, he gained some fame only around 1953, while he was exhibiting at Pierre Loeb’s.” He also showed in the Younger European Painters exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1953; the Guggenheim soon purchased one of his works. “Sans titre”, 1953 was painted during this seminal time in Riopelle’s career, as he was gaining significant recognition for his work.

Riopelle’s mosaic paintings also caught the attention of the American Abstract Expressionists and its critics, which contributed to the manufactured rivalry between the abstract movements of Paris and New York. In 1953, Riopelle met Pierre Matisse (son of the famous artist), who included his work in a group exhibition that fall and would become his New York dealer. The artist had his first solo show in the United States there in 1954: “Riopelle: First American Exhibition”. Matisse held regular solo exhibitions of Riopelle’s art in New York throughout the remainder of the decade.

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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.