Joan Mitchell, American (1926 - 1992)

Joan Mitchell (February 12, 1925 - October 30, 1992) was a ‘Second Generation’ Abstract Expressionist painter. 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.

Mitchell was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of James Herbert and Marion Strobel Mitchell. She studied at Smith College, Massachusetts, The Art Institute of Chicago, and at Columbia University, New York.After arriving in Manhattan in 1947 she wanted to study at Hans Hofmann’s school in New York but, according to Jane Livingston in her essay of 2002 (in "The Paintings of Joan Mitchell") Mitchell only attended one class and declared, "I couldn't understand a word he said so I left, terrified." She traveled in 1948 in France, Spain, and Italy. By the early 1950s, she was regarded as a leading artist in the New York School. In her early years as a painter, she was influenced by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Wassily Kandinsky, and later by the work of Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, among others.

She married American publisher Barney Rosset in 1949 in Paris. Rosset is the Chicago-born American entrepreneur and former owner of the publishing house Grove Press, who is perhaps best known as the American publisher of the controversial and sexually charged novel Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. They divorced in 1952. In 1955, Mitchell moved to France to join Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, with whom she had a long, rich, and tumultuous relationship. They maintained separate homes and studios, but had dinner and drank together daily. They first lived in Paris, and then moved west to the town of Vétheuil, near Giverny, Claude Monet's home.

Her paintings are expansive, often covering two separate panels. Landscape was the primary influence on her subject matter. She painted on unprimed canvas or white ground with gestural, sometimes violent brushwork. Her paintings are highly expressive and emotional.

During the period between 1960 and 1964, Mitchell moved away from the all-over style and bright colors of her earlier compositions, instead using sombre hues and dense central masses of color to express something inchoate and primordial. The marks on these works were said to be extraordinary: "the paint flung and squeezed on to the canvases, spilling and spluttering across their surfaces and smeared on with the artist's fingers."

She said that she wanted her paintings "to convey the feeling of the dying sunflower."

Mitchell died in 1992 in Vétheuil, near Giverny France.

The Joan Mitchell Foundation awards grants and stipends to painters, sculptors, and artist collectives. It is located in Manhattan at 545 West 25th Street.

In speaking of Mitchell, others tell us of her physical materiality - how she exudes the visual sentiments of nature - the objectivity of her painting, devoid of anecdote or theater and in her own words "to convey the feeling of the dying sunflower." Joan Mitchell as an abstract expressionist composes with long curvilinear strokes or broad stains of color, contrasting warm and cool, often on unprimed canvases. Her perceptions enrich her work with a fascinating sense of the unfinished. Joan Mitchell demonstrated in painting just as in life, anything can happen.

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