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Joan Mitchell

 (1925 - 1992)
Joan Mitchell was active/lived in New York, Illinois / France.  Joan Mitchell is known for abstract expressionist painting, modernist figure.

Joan Mitchell

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Joan Mitchell
A leading figure of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists in New York City, Joan Mitchell said that although her paintings seemed total abstractions, they were, in fact, "about a feeling that comes to me from the outside, the landscape."

She distinguished herself from other Abstract Expressionists because she had a pre-established design, a single image, to anchor her painting rather than leaving the result to subconscious, totally emotion-based expression.

Mitchell was born and raised in Chicago by parents who were wealthy and socially prominent. Her father was a successful doctor, and her mother a poet, and both supported her apparent early art talent. She attended Frances Parker School, a private high school whose faculty encouraged her interest in painting. For two years, 1942 to 1944, she enrolled in Smith College but was unsettled because she wanted to focus more on art. She transferred to the Chicago Art Institute, earning a B.F.A. in 1948 and an M.F.A. in 1950. There she was much influenced by the work of French modernist Paul Cezanne and Cubist painters.

From 1948 to 1949, Mitchell had a traveling scholarship to France, which was an unhappy time for her because her living conditions were a rat-infested, unheated apartment and her sense of direction about her artwork unfocused.

Joan Mitchell then lived in Greenwich Village in New York City, where she came under the influence of the Abstract Expressionists with whom she socialized at the Cedar Bar. She described them as "a group against the world". She was particularly influenced by the work of Willem de Kooning, Arshille Gorky and Franz Kline and adopted their methods of strong, gestural brush-work and aggressive color.

In 1951, her paintings were chosen to be part of the Abstract Expressionists "Ninth Street Show", and this exposure stirred much positive attention for her canvases. She had her first solo exhibition in 1952 at the New Gallery. A critic described her work as "heroic-sized cataclysms of aggressive color-lines in a savage debut that shows her moving further and further from Cubist order."

Much of her painting during this time had calligraphic images, curving lines of green, purple and blue against whitish backgrounds. Some likened this expression to the movements she experienced as a child-champion ice skater in Chicago.

By the end of the 1950s, Mitchell like other Abstract Expressionists was finding less and less interest in her work because of the popularity of Pop Art and Minimalism. By 1959, she had moved permanently to France where she lived in relative isolation with Jean-Paul Riopelle, a Canadian painter, in Vetheuil, a village close to Paris. Their home was on a hill with a view of fields and water, and her paintings with colors of oranges, pinks and gold reflected the light she saw in the countryside.

Her painting schedule was to begin painting in the late afternoon and work throughout the night, listening to music and pacing around. Although her paintings have much energetic movement of line, shape and color, she painted slowly and carefully from preliminary charcoal sketches. The effect was spontaneity, but in fact, she was much in control, painting only about twenty canvases a year and discarding many that she judged inferior.

In 1973 she had a major one-woman show at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York, and in 1974 at the Whitney Museum.

Joan Mitchell died of lung cancer in 1992 at the age of 66.

Charlotte Rubinstein, American Women Artists, 282-283

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell was born in Chicago in 1926, the daughter of a physician, James H. Mitchell and a poet, Marian Strobel. Her mother was an editor of Poetry magazine, and Joan as a child, got to know the leading writers of the day. In 1942 she entered Smith College, studying English, though continuing to pursue her interest in art. She left after two years and enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago to concentrate on painting.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1947, she won a traveling fellowship for a trip through France. At this point, however, she moved to New York City, intending to study with Hans Hofmann. She found him intimidating, but she was impressed by his painting and his no-nonsense laying on of paint and he remained a strong influence on her work.

Throughout her career Mitchell's literary connections have been as strong as her artistic ones. Married in 1949 to editor and publisher Barney Rosset, whom she had met in high school, she helped support his establishment of Grove press. They were divorced in 1952.

In 1959 Mitchell moved to France, settling first in Paris where she maintained a studio for nine years. In 1968 she made her home near the town of Vethuel in Monet country, about thirty-five miles northwest of Paris. Her studio and home were in a home that Monet had lived in from April 1878 to November 1881.

Mitchell married twice. Her second husband was a young market analyst named Alan Greenspan. The second marriage did not last long either. In 1959, after she moved to Paris permanently, she settled down with Jean-Pierre Riopelle, a Canadian painter who became her companion for nearly twenty-five years. She died in 1992 at the age of sixty-six.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Cathy Curtis in LA Times, April 26,1994
Dark Victories by Harry Gaugh in ARTnews, Summer 1988
Abstract Art's Gutsy Poet by Edward M. Gomez in Art & Antiques Magazine, May 1996

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries
Joan Mitchell is perhaps best known as a second-generation member of the New York School. Yet although she was included in the celebrated 1957 exhibition "Artists of the New York School: Second Generation" at the Jewish Museum in New York, Mitchell lived and worked primarily in France. While her dramatic, lushly painted works possess an active, gestural quality that connects her work to New York School artists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Philip Guston, her work also evokes the paintings and pastels of French Impressionists through their vivid palette and frequent references to nature. As her work incorporated both of these influences, Mitchell is frequently termed an Abstract Impressionist. Such an association is reinforced by the fact that Mitchell work primarily out of Vétheuil, a town outside of Paris where Claude Monet lived and worked, and in a strange twist of fate, that she also lived on Avenue Claude Monet.

Mitchell was born in 1926 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, James Herbert Mitchell, was a prominent dermatologist, eventually becoming the president of the American Dermatological Association, and an amateur artist. Mitchell's mother, Marion Strobel was an artist and a poet, editing "Poetry" magazine with Harriet Monroe. Through her mother, Mitchell met celebrated poets, such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Thornton Wilder, many of whom published their first work in the journal. Like her mother, Mitchell had a lifelong love of literature, with a particular passion for poetry. Mitchell also began to explore art, initially working in pencil at the age of five. She had her first show at twelve, exhibiting casein painting at the Francis W. Parker School, a progressive school in which she was enrolled. While only in the eighth grade, Mitchell sold her first work, which, significantly, was a landscape. Mitchell experimented with landscapes and depictions of nature, often working "en plein-air," while simultaneously analyzing works by artists such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Edouard Manet and Francisco de Goya displayed at the Art Institute. She felt a particular affinity with Vincent Van Gogh, a lifelong favorite whose work would continue to influence Mitchell throughout her career.

Mitchell attended Smith College, where she concentrated in English and studied art with Hyman George Cohen between 1942 and 1944. After two years, she transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied painting with Robert von Neumann and Louis Ritman and worked in a figurative manner. Mitchell's art reflected the influence of a wide variety of artists, including Matisse and Cézanne, and Mexican muralists, such as David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, both of whom she met on a trip to Guanajuanto, Mexico. While at Chicago, she received the Edward L. Ryerson Traveling Fellowship before graduating with a B.F.A. in 1947. That same year, Mitchell moved to New York City to study with Hans Hofmann. Although impressed by his paintings, she ultimately decided not to enroll in his class. During this period, Mitchell saw works produced by New York School artists such as Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock, but later said that she was not yet able to appreciate them.

The Ryerson Fellowship allowed Mitchell to work in Paris and Le Lavandou, a town in the south of France, for one year. She traveled with Barney Rosset, a childhood friend and her future husband who later, in 1951, founded Grove Press, an avant-garde publishing house. In Paris, Mitchell associated with artists such as Herbert Katzman and Philip Guston, who had earlier judged her work favorably in a competition in Chicago. During this period, Mitchell produced Cubist inspired works that reflected the influence of Picasso. Later that year, Mitchell and Rosset relocated to Le Lavandou for the winter. There, Mitchell painted what she called "expressionist landscapes"— increasingly abstract works that were far removed from her earlier, more figurative work.

Mitchell returned to New York City in 1950 and met several prominent Abstract Expressionist artists, such as Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, whose painting, Excavation, had profoundly impressed her. Mitchell began associating with more Abstract Expressionists and was invited to join the Artists' Club, an exclusive organization that sponsored several important group exhibitions. Mitchell, along with artists Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lee Krasner, were amongst the few women artists invited to join the club. In 1951, Mitchell presented a painting, "Untitled" (1950) in the "Ninth Street Show," an exhibition organized by the club and curated by Leo Castelli. The other members praised Mitchell's work, helping establish her reputation as one of the most promising young artists in New York. The following year, she would have her first solo exhibition in New York City.

Mitchell returned to Paris in the summer of 1955, where she met a group of artists which included Sam Francis, Norman Bluhm and Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle. Divorced from Rosset, she and Riopelle would live together until 1979. Mitchell continued to exhibit in New York, dividing her time between New York and Paris until she eventually relocated to France in 1959. Her works made during this period, such as "Ladybug" (1957) challenged many of the ideas of the New York School. Although such works were abstract, she saw them as dealing with nature and representing the outside world rather than an interior one, and declared that her works "were about landscape, not about me." Yet Mitchell did not wish to create a realistic view of nature, but rather to paint its effects, "what it leaves me with," through the use of colors and brushstrokes that would evoke the sensations of landscapes. In contrast action painting, which, at the time was described as being primarily instinctual, Mitchell's works were carefully composed, combining both planning and intuition. Despite the aesthetic of spontaneity that Mitchell employed in her work, she rejected the idea that her works reflected "action" painting, stating, "the freedom in my work is quite controlled. I don't close my eyes and hope for the best."

Mitchell's work has been widely exhibited in the United States and Europe. In 1974, the Whitney Museum of American Art had a ten-year retrospective of Mitchell's work and in 1982, she had a solo exhibition at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. In 1988, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University mounted a major retrospective exhibition of her work that traveled to several venues, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. In 2002, the Whitney Museum of American Art recently featured her work in a posthumous exhibition. Over a decade after her death, Mitchell's distinctive work continues to influence several generations of artists.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

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Biography photo for Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell, circa 1956.

About  Joan Mitchell

Born:  1925 - Chicago, Illinois
Died:   1992 - Paris, France
Known for:  abstract expressionist painting, modernist figure

Essays referring to
Joan Mitchell

Abstract Expressionism
Women Artists