Joan Mitchell

Biography of Joan Mitchell

With the sheer energy and freedom of the brushstrokes across her monumentally sized canvases, it is no wonder Joan Mitchell compared painting to riding a bike with no hands. Born in Chicago in 1925, the painter and printmaker is recognized as a key figure, not to mention one of the few females of the second wave movement of American Abstract Expressionism. It was after transferring from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947 to art school in New York City, that Mitchell was introduced to the New York School which was dominated by the Abstract Expressionists, a scene in which she would quickly immerse herself completely.


Joan Mitchell’s works are characterized by bold color schemes and sweeping, vigorous brushstrokes in rhythmic compositions. Inspired by her changing emotional states, as well as landscapes, poetry, and abstract expressionism, Mitchell never intended to create recognizable depictions, but rather intended to create canvases with a real emotional charge. The soberness and dense, chaotic structure of the brushstrokes from her work of the early 60s reflect feelings of violence and anger experienced by Mitchell at the time. She described the lighter hues, and more harmonious strokes of her series of works from the late 60s as a reflection of her trying to “get out of this violent phase”. She had a truly remarkable ability of echoing shifts in her surrounding landscapes, personal relationships and state of mind, in her treatment of color and of movement of light and paint. Upon moving to France in the 1960s and acquiring more studio space, Mitchell began painting across several panels, creating the remarkably large scale works she is known for today. In the 1990s, Mitchell began experimenting with printmaking, mimicking the style of her paintings in limited edition lithographs. She died in 1992 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.


In her earlier years, Joan Mitchell’s work was exhibited in the Ninth Street Show in New York in 1951, alongside the works of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. She has also had several more recent retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her work is part of the permanent collection of several important international museums, namely the MoMA in New York, the TATE in London, and the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris. Additionally, in 2014, an untitled 1971 painting by Joan Mitchell sold at Christies Paris for a record of EUR 5.2 million.

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