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Untitled n. 17

Pastel on paper
78 x 58 cm (30 ³/₄ x 22 ⁷/₈ inches)

Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris
Madame Hennesy Del Porto, Acquired in 1994
Private Collection, Paris

This work is registered in the archives of the Joan Mitchell Foundation.

Price on request

Born in Chicago in 1925, Joan Mitchell established herself as a talent in postwar New York’s avant-garde scene, and one of the most influential figures of Abstract Expressionism. 

Mitchell quickly became part of the circle of key artists like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. During these years, from late 1949 until she began living part of the year in Paris in 1955, Mitchell painted seriously and engaged fully with the spirited ideas circulating around downtown New York - and was a fully participating member of the then-unnamed New York School. 
In 1951, her work was exhibited alongside that of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Hans Hoffman in the celebrated “Ninth Street Show,” which marked the ascendancy of Abstract Expressionism within the development of modern art. Exemplifying the ideals of the New York School, Mitchell’s paintings wager all on the expressive potential of the painterly mark itself, freed from the constraints of traditional representation. 

In the late 1970s, Mitchell kept a studio in the Montparnasse district of Paris that she used for making drawings, in particular pastels. In 1977-78 Mitchell made many pastels, evoking elements and colors found in her surroundings– the circuitous line of the river, the specific blue hue of the sky, and particularly the large, wide-canopied Linden overlooking the river at her home in Vétheuil. These drawings layers richly saturated pastel covering almost the entire surface of the paper, mirroring the elements, and, even more, the sensation of space and vision that one experiences in reaction to them. 
Mitchell’s works are charged with a concentrated reaction to her natural and emotional environment; they provide intimate evidence of a hand and mind in motion. This kind of subjective, psychological relationship to a visual and spacial context is central to Joan Mitchell's work. [1]

“It is her singular achievement to have stripped her process down to the simplest means…in order to make her work allude to something far larger than landscape, and that is the exigencies of life itself.”
John Yau, American art critic, poet and academic

Our work, dated from 1977, is typical of these years and a great example of Michell’s pastel work. The few dark areas, blurred, partially covered with an intense blue spreading on the sheet, and the (“reserves”) on the paper give a great depth to the work. The yellow, turquoise and red add a radiance impulse, and intensify the composition.
We can observe on the paper the smudge, the fingerprint, and the subtractive erasure. The emotional and material intimacy of Mitchell's drawings arises from the unification of expressive intention with an understanding of the intrinsic physical properties and capabilities of each material. With pastel, Mitchell can deal with color almost as pure pigment. The powder of pastel transfers easily—to the paper, to the fingers of the artist—and smudges easily. It is a fragile and sensitive substance with vibrant and powerful color, and in Mitchell's hands these contradictory qualities of fierceness and vulnerability coexist in works that can be, as John Yau says of Mitchell's pastel's in a 1992 essay, "heartbreaking."
Joan Mitchell has since been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions, and examples of her work hang in nearly all major public collections of modern art including: Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Osaka City Art Museum of Modern Art, Japan; Samsung Museum, Seoul and The Tate Gallery, London. 

[1]Joan Mitchell Foundation website