Joan Mitchell: landscapes absorbed

 

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American

at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2022

 

The Baltimore Art Museum is holding a partial review of Joan Mitchell’s works until mid-August 2022.

 

A real retrospective of so prolific a painter whose canvases are large, sometimes in duplicate, triplicate and in four parts, would be difficult to organize.

 

 

 

An abstract expressionist ‘of the second generation’, Joan Mitchell was a rare woman whose work was met during her lifetime with critical and public acclaim in New York and in France where she lived and worked many years. 

 

Her reputation has grown and this during decades when everything and its uncle has all but submerged abstraction.

 

La Vie en Rose was painted following the break-up of a relationship of 24 years with the French Canadian artist, Jean-Paul Riopelle, 1923-2002.

 

 

 

La Vie En Rose, 1979, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  MOMA, NY

 

 

Mitchell named this work after the song of this name written by Édith Piaf and Louiguy and Marguerite Monot in 1945 and popularized by Édith Piaf the following year. 

 

 

Winton Marsalis in 2008 with his Quintet playing La Vie En Rose

 

La Vie En Rose, 1979, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  MOMA, NY

 

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Joan Mitchell was born and raised in Chicago in comfort. By 1949, she was in Manhattan and committed to the life and work of art.

 

Her primary – but not only – subject was landscape.

 

The physical landscapes of her life transformed into internal landscapes by action of her memory and senses and desire

 

such that they became her creative echo-chamber.

 

This, her transformed and reflective being, the geography of a life,  is what she transmuted in paint onto canvas.

 

This most captivating of paintings just below seems to capture the result of this two-way osmosis: 

 

Paradoxically its title refers to the ‘Line of rupture’. 

 

Not only is there no rupture in the body of the work and it was not structured as a diptych with its inevitable rupture,

 

but the work is associated with a redolent line of poetry: 

 

“It is the skin of what is outside which folds back to absorb us…”

 

This painting depicts simultaneously the artist’s exterior and interior landscapes:

 

in an expanse of universe: 

the golden self, the sky, the earth, the waters of the earth holding firm but also porous, absorptive and in dynamic change.

Earth, sky and water are shot through with gold.

 

 

 

La Ligne de la Rupture, 1970-71, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Private collectiono loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

Titled after a poem by the artist’s close friend, the poet, Jacques Dupin (1927-2012, French):

“C’est la peau de dehors qui se retourne et nous absorbe…”

 

 

 

City Landscape, 1955, oil on linen.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from the Art Institute of Chicago to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

The artist’s view of Lake Michigan and the skyline of Chicago from her family’s apartment. This view, mutated to those of the Seine and of the Mediterranean, stayed with her throughout her life.

 

 

 

Ambitious, competitive, hard working, opinionated and deeply thought-through, fierce in her approbation and in her quarrels, she became a mentor of artists working today; and much appreciated.

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1948, oil on canvas.

  Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  Loan from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, NY to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

Joan Mitchell spent the year 1948-1949 in France on a fellowship.

 

She returned to New York and, painting this below, she said that she knew that this was her last figure painting.  From then on she said she wanted to paint the city.

 

 

 

 

Figure and the City, 1949-1950, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, NY to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

In New York, she was in close professional touch with her fellow painters,  Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Philip Guston.  Her work was exhibited with theirs and with their support.  Her first solo exhibition in New York was in 1952.

 

 

 

 

Lyric, c. 1951, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from Vassar College to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

A reader of poetry all her life, she took poems and verses as sources for her work also.

 

 

 

 

Hemlock, 1956, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from the Whitney Museum, NY to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

from ‘Domination of Blacks’, 1916, Wallace Stevens (1879-1955, American)

Out of the window,

I saw how the planets gathered

Like the leaves themselves

Turning in the wind.

I saw how the night came,

Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks.

 

 

 

In May 1955, Joan Mitchell moved to Paris.

 

She wanted to get away from the pressure of the art market in New York.  She wanted to be free to work as she wanted to. 

 

It will be recalled that the first generation of Abstract Expressionists began losing ground in the mid-1950s and early 1960’s to successor Young Turks:

 

the Color Field painters, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol and the several isms they spawned. 

 

 

Mitchell was an intimate of the tradition of French painting of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was not the distant past when she began her life in France.

 

Not only she did not disdain the Impressionists and their immediate predecessors,  she studied them and used them as sources.  She learned from the techniques and colours of Cézanne , Monet, and Vincent van Gogh.

 

 

 

The Bridge, 1956, oil on canvas

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Private loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

Believed to be the first of the artist’s diptychs, the subject – bridges – held several references for the artist among which her longing for a sight of the Brooklyn Bridge when she was in France.

 

 

 

Without a gallery in Paris, Mitchell continued to work as she wanted to. 

 

For 4 years she went back and forth between New York and Paris, taking her work for display to New York. 

 

The reception of her work in New York continued successful.

 

 

 

 

Ladybug, 1957, oil on canvas. 

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. MOMA, NY

 

 

 

 

A view of a gallery of the Baltimore Art Museum during this exhibition

 

 

 

 

To the Harbormaster, 1957, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loaned by AKSART LP to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

The expanse of water between New York and Paris; and an evocation of a well-known poem written by a friend.

 

‘The Harbormaster’, Frank O’Hara written in 1957 (1926-1966, American)

 

‘I wanted to be sure to reach you;

though my ship was on the way it got caught

in some moorings.  I am always tying up

and then deciding to depart.’

 

 

 

 

Joan Mitchell moved to Paris permanently in 1959.

 

Settled, she began to experiment with the ways she applied paint to canvas: flinging the paint, wiping it, squeezing it directly from its tube.

 

Her work began to be exhibited at a number of international venues and exhibitions.  Jean Fournier became her Paris gallerist and she stayed with him for 30 years.

 

 

 

 

Water Gate, 1960, oil on canvas. 

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Private loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Girolata Triptych, 1963, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Private loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Tree, 1964, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from the Worcester, MA Art Museum to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1964, charcoal and pastel on paper. 

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Private collection loan  to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Russian Easter, 1967, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Private collection loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

In 1967, with an inheritance from her mother, Joan Mitchell bought La Tour, a large house with views of the Seine in the village of Vétheuil, the home of Claude Monet 90 years before. 

 

She lived here for 25 years; and with Jean-Paul Riopelle until the end of their relationship.

 

 

 

 

My Landscape II, 1967, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

A memory painted in Paris of the gardens and greenery surrounding Mitchell’s new home in Vétheuil.

 

 

 

The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil .

Claude Monet, 1840-1926, French.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

 

Vétheuil, 1967-68, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Private loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

In the galleries at the Baltimore Art Museum during this exhibition

 

 

 

It was here that the artist’s relationship with the French art tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries and with the uses of colour became more intense.

 

 

 

 

Sans Neige, 1969, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

Joan Mitchell’s monumental paintings of the 1970s she referred to, sometimes, as ‘territories’. 

 

As though they were  protective domains for her to inhabit in the intermittent loneliness of her separation from Paris and New York and in her  permanent separation from Jean-Paul Riopelle.

 

 

 

 

Ode to Joy (A Poem by Frank O’Hara), 1970-71, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from the University of Buffalo Art Galleries to  Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

‘We shall have everything we want and there shall be no more dying

on the pretty plains or in the supper clubs…’. 1957

 

 

 

The museum notes that poetry, music, her dogs and work became even more important to her. 

 

The artist often invited young painters and poets to stay and work with her for weeks and even months.

She worked with them and they with her. 

 

Here a memory from 1995 of Joan Mitchell and his relationship with her and her work by the Philadelphia artist, Bill Scott.

 

JoanMitchellByBillScott-ArtinAmerica-.pdf (paintingperceptions.com)

 

 

 

 

 

Bonjour Julie, 1971, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Loan from the Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Canada 1, oil on canvas, 1975. 

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Solomon R. Guggenheim, NY

 

An evocation of the artist’s experience of the harsh winters and vast spaces north of Montreal.

The Guggenheim’s wall tab reminded that the gestural expression of the movement known as Art Informel was as important to Mitchell as those of Abstract Expressionism.

 

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1975, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Private collection loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

Joan Mitchell said that she did not like fields and fields of sunflowers. She liked them one by one. 

Most of all she like Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers, she said.

 

 

 

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Sunflowers, oil on canvas, 1888 or 1889.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890, Dutch.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

 

 

In the galleries of the Baltimore Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

Sunflower VI, 1976, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Williams College Museum of Art loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

No Rain, 1976, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  MOMA, NY  loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

Mitchell kept a card-sized image of the painting below on her studio wall and completed a series of paintings on the theme of rain.

 

 

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Rain, 1889, oil on canvas.

  Vincent Van Gogh, 1853-1890, Dutch.  Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

 

Red Tree, 1976, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Weeds, 1976, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  Loan of the Smithsonian Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC to the Baltimore Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

Tilleul, 1978, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. ?Ownership. On display at the Baltimore Museum in 2022. 

 

A linden tree which the artist saw every day she opened her front door.

 

 

 

 

 

Salut Tom, 1979, oil on canvas, four panels. 

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  Loan of the Corcoran Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC to the Baltimore Museum in 2022

 

memorial to her friend, the critic Thomas B. Hess: a view of the Seine from her terrace on a summer day. 

One of 7 4-panelled works made for the artist’s first museum exhibition at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1982.

 

 

 

 

In the late 1970s, a close relationship with the composer Gisèle Barreau expanded the artist’s sensual reach into the composer’s vast soundscapes;

and also to the appreciation of small pleasures in the physical landscape.

 

 

 

 

La Grande Vallee II (Amaryllis), 1983, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  Private collection loan to the Baltimore Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

No Birds, 1987-88, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  Private collection loan to the Baltimore Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

South, 1989, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American. Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris loan to the Baltimore Art Museum in 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Sunflowers, 1990-91, oil on canvas.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  Private collection loan to the Baltimore Museum in 2022

 

 

 

Joan Mitchell was painting in the last year of her life. 

 

As heartland American as Joan Mitchell was, New York nervy as she became,

 

she had the courage of her intuition to leave her country and the fellowship of her peers

 

and make her way into the heart of an old,  sophisticated and rigorous artistic tradition, male-dominated and not less misogynistic than the American;

 

 

 

 

Untitled, oil on canvas, 1992.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  Private collection loan to the Baltimore Museum in 2022

 

 

 

there to absorb its lessons, to come to love its light, its poets; to develop theories about the uses of colour; to pass on her insights

 

in order to create a pathway for her life outside of the North American whirlpool into what she called a ‘plenitude’.

 

 

“Painting” Joan Mitchell said, “is made with feeling. 

“One has to have the guts to feel + love outside oneself.”

 

 

Here in the last year of her life, she has abandoned the Abstract Expressionist all-over-the-canvas practice. 

 

Here are two solitary sunflowers, stable, balanced, almost dancing, ready to float upwards but more likely, in the last year of her life, on their way to falling and fading.

 

Their blood-rich placentas, as it were, disconnected but very close on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

A  portrait of her two cultural selves, perhaps, distinct and in creative sync. 

 

With the memory of her love for the energetic brushstrokes and sunflowers of Vincent Van Gogh.

 

 

 

Untitled, oil on canvas, 1992.

Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992, American.  Private collection loan to the Baltimore Museum in 2022

 

 

 

“I am enough for myself”, she said finally, of the ‘plenitude’ she felt in her studio. 

 

“I am enough for myself.  I live there fully.”