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Collections> Browse Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell
Holdings (63)
3 paintings, 59 edition prints/proofs, 1 book

Wikipedia About Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell (February 12, 1925 – October 30, 1992) was a “second generation” abstract expressionist painter. She was an essential member of the American Abstract expressionist movement, even though much of her career took place in France. Along with Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, and Helen Frankenthaler she was one of her era’s few female painters to gain critical and public acclaim. Her paintings and editioned prints can be seen in major museums and collections across America and Europe. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Joan Mitchell, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Joan Mitchell was one of the most significant painters to emerge from Abstract Expressionism, a movement in American art at mid-twentieth century with few female proponents. Steeped in literature and the arts as a youth in Chicago, Mitchell moved to New York in 1950, where she soon became ensconced in the Greenwich Village art scene, associating with established painters of the New York School such as Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Philip Guston as well as poets Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and others.

With her bold, gestural canvases and fiercely independent attitude, Mitchell quickly made an impact as one of the so-called second-generation of Abstract Expressionists (along with painters Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, and Jules Olitski). Though her paintings shared the scale, exploded composition, and pure color associated with the period, Mitchell also had an abiding passion for the landscape. She devoted her artistic life to making resolutely abstract works that were her own reflections on the natural world, drawing inspiration as much from early modernists such as Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Vincent van Gogh as from her predecessors of the New York School.

Mitchell’s confident, early paintings reflected her admiration for de Kooning, whose work she saw at the Whitney Annual in 1950, and Arshile Gorky, whose late style of abstraction was similar to her own. Though her feverish, densely marked surfaces often appear to have been painted spontaneously, she eschewed the term “action painting.”1 Her work was highly controlled, and she was sometimes known to spend months on a composition. Painting 1953 was made the year she joined New York’s Stable Gallery, at a time when her style was becoming fully mature. The painting shares a subdued palette of grays, greens, and yellows with several others made that summer in East Hampton, New York, and was one of the very few canvases Mitchell likely painted outdoors.2 She preferred to execute her views of nature in her studio, often working at night. Her lyrical compositions of color and light were almost always derived from remembrances—“I carry my landscapes around with me,” she remarked in 1957—rather than from visual cues.3

From 1968 until her death, Mitchell lived and worked in her adopted home of Vétheuil, a small town near Paris where the painter Claude Monet had resided from 1878 to 1881. While she observed the same surroundings as the French artist (sunflowers, trees, and wild grasses were among her favorite themes), she did not profess an affinity for his work, though she placed herself more within a French artistic tradition than an American one: “To me,” she said, “painting is French.”4

With her move to France, Mitchell began to work on a larger scale, often painting on multiple panels. Her love of poetry has often been cited in this context, her panels of painterly calligraphy sometimes compared to stanzas of verse or pages from an open book. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, her brushstrokes more closely began to suggest recognizable landscapes, and her surfaces, as in much of her work from the period, revealed an increased ordering of marks—mostly flat, vertical strokes densely applied with a palette knife.

Near the end of her life, Mitchell’s paintings assumed a new clarity, marked by bold, distilled color (often taken directly from the paint tube), wide brushstrokes, and an increased sparseness. The assured clusters of blue, gray, and lavender in the diptych Trees (1990–1991) float amidst a diaphanous field of white, creating an arresting openness. “I like trees because a tree is not a person,” she remarked the year this painting was finished. “It expresses things.”5 Mitchell remained prolific until her death from cancer in 1992. In her last years she produced some of her largest and most luminous canvases, pastels, and lithographs,6 evincing her inventiveness as a colorist, her evolution as a painter, and her adherence to her own very personal vision.

  1. “The idea of ‘action painting’ is a joke,” Mitchell remarked in 1991. “There is no ‘action’ here. I paint a little. Then I sit and look at the painting, sometimes for hours. Eventually the painting tells me what to do.” Quoted in Deborah Solomon, “In Monet’s Light,” New York Times Magazine, December 1, 1991, 62.

  2. Mitchell rented Rose Cottage in Three Mile Harbor, East Hampton, Long Island, that summer with Michael Goldberg, Paul Brach, and his wife, Miriam Schapiro. Painting 1953 was made alongside two other canvases at that time, both titled Rose Cottage, which the artist painted in a studio space on an outdoor, covered porch. See Judith E. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, exh. cat. (New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with the Herbert S. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 1988), 28–29.

  3. Quoted in Irving Sandler, “Mitchell Paints a Picture,” Artnews 56, no. 6 (October 1957): 45.

  4. Quoted in Solomon, “In Monet’s Light,” 64.

  5. Quoted in ibid., 62.

  6. During the early 1980s, Mitchell became more active as a printmaker, and throughout her final years, she created a significant body of lithographs in collaboration with master printer Kenneth Tyler at Tyler Graphics Ltd. in Mount Kisco, New York.

Engberg, Siri. “Joan Mitchell.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center