Installation view of Joan Mitchell Paintings 1979-1985 at David Zwirner in New York, 2022

Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985

David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of paintings by Joan Mitchell focusing on the years 1979 to 1985—a significant and deeply generative period within her decades-long career—on view at the gallery’s 537 West 20th Street location in New York. Featuring paintings from both public and private collections, as well as from the holdings of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the show coincides with the final leg of the artist’s critically acclaimed retrospective—previously on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Baltimore Museum of Art—which is on view at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris through February 27, 2023, alongside the concurrent exhibition Claude Monet - Joan Mitchell.

For Mitchell, this period, which included her important 1982 solo exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, was a time of profound artistic development, growth, and focus on the possibilities of painting. As she became even more fully immersed in daily life at her property in Vétheuil, France—surrounded by lush gardens, and challenged and inspired by new creative relationships––Mitchell’s studio practice flourished, and her work became even more ambitious and expansive.  


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Image: Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

A photo of Joan Mitchell in her studio in Vétheuil, taken 1983.

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, 1983. © Joan Mitchell Foundation, photo by Robert Freson

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, 1983. © Joan Mitchell Foundation, photo by Robert Freson

“The years 1979 to 1986 swelled with ambition—for art, not career—and the achievement in her work manifested a metaphysical depth born of a life surveyed, prompted, but not determined, by loss and death…. Mitchell's paintings reached a new expanse, even as she grew more present in and anchored to the concrete details of her life.”

—Katy Siegel, Research Director, Special Program Initiatives, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2021

Installation view of Joan Mitchell Paintings 1979-1985 at David Zwirner in New York, 2022

Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Joan Mitchell established a singular visual vocabulary over the course of her more than four-decade career. While rooted in the conventions of abstraction, Mitchell’s inventive reinterpretation of the traditional figure-ground relationship and remarkable adeptness with color set her apart from her peers and resulted in intuitively constructed and emotionally charged compositions that alternately conjure individuals, observations, places, and points in time.

A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Wood, Wind, No Tuba, dated 1979.

Joan Mitchell

Wood, Wind, No Tuba, 1979
Oil on canvas in two (2) parts
110 3/8 x 157 5/8 inches (280.4 x 400.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Estate of Joan Mitchell, 1994

The earliest painting in the exhibition, Wood, Wind, No Tuba, marks Mitchell’s triumphant reimmersion in her Vétheuil studio following the departure of Jean Paul Riopelle, her companion of more than two decades, earlier that year.

The work’s title nods to her friendship with Gisèle Barreau, a young French composer whom Mitchell considered a true creative equal. Barreau would become a fixture at Vétheuil along with a revolving group of young artists with whom Mitchell exchanged ideas, drawing energy and vigor from their shared creative pursuits.

Installation view of the Joan Mitchell exhibition titled Wood, Wind, No Tuba, at the The Museum of Modern Art in New York, dated 2017–2019.

Installation view, Joan Mitchell’s Wood, Wind, No Tuba, featured in The Long Run, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017–2019

Installation view, Joan Mitchell’s Wood, Wind, No Tuba, featured in The Long Run, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017–2019

“Joan was fascinated by the notes in musical scores and their translation into sound…. Her wonderful painting is percussive, vocal, and flamboyant. It amplifies, it transcends.”

—Gisèle Barreau, in the exhibition catalogue for Joan Mitchell at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art, 2021

An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, dated 1980.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, 1980
Oil on canvas
25 1/2 x 19 3/4 inches (64.8 x 50.2 cm)
Framed: 33 x 27 inches (83.8 x 68.6 cm)
Private Collection
A photo of Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, dated 1979.

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, 1979. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, 1979. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Bursting with yellows, the painting Room similarly reflects the bold exuberance of this new beginning as well as Mitchell’s renewed connection with her natural surroundings. Dominated by a palette of radiant orange—one of the bright and vivid hues that recur throughout Mitchell’s canvases of the early 1980s—the short, staccato brushstrokes suggest a renewed sense of confidence that would carry through the remainder of the artist’s career.

A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Room, dated 1981.

Joan Mitchell

Room, 1981
Oil on canvas
31 3/4 x 23 1/2 inches (80.7 x 59.7 cm)
Framed: 34 1/4 x 26 1/4 inches (87 x 66.7 cm)
Linda Pace Foundation Collection, Ruby City

Jean Perthuis in Joan Mitchell’s garden, Vétheuil, 1985. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Jean Perthuis in Joan Mitchell’s garden, Vétheuil, 1985. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

“[Mitchell] remarks that people did not perceive her extreme unhappiness during the period of her Yellow paintings because they associated warm colors exclusively with joy. The blacks and oranges in the painting of 1980 evoke the feeling of dying flowers, with which Mitchell was preoccupied in the early 1980s. When making lithographs in 1981 with Ken Tyler in Bedford, New York, she said: ‘I want to try a color like the color of dying sunflowers.’”

—Judith E. Bernstock, art historian, 1988

Installation view of Joan Mitchell Paintings 1979-1985 at David Zwirner in New York, 2022

Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Chez ma soeur, dated 1981.

Joan Mitchell

Chez ma soeur, 1981
Oil on canvas in four (4) parts
110 3/8 x 258 3/4 inches (280.4 x 657.2 cm)
Framed: 111 7/8 x 260 1/4 inches (284.2 x 661 cm)
Private Collection

Not seen publicly in more than twenty years, the quadriptych Chez ma soeur counts amongst Mitchell’s largest paintings.

Executed during a period in which her beloved sister Sally was in the throes of a protracted battle with cancer, the work draws on Mitchell’s memories of time spent at Sally’s home in Santa Barbara, California, poetically balancing the suggestion of a landscape with a sense of tenderness and self-contained interiority.

A photo of Joan Mitchell and her sister Sally Perry at Sally’s home in Santa Barbara, California, dated 1982.

Joan Mitchell and her sister Sally Perry at Sally’s home in Santa Barbara, California, c. 1980. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Joan Mitchell and her sister Sally Perry at Sally’s home in Santa Barbara, California, c. 1980. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

A photo of Jean Fournier standing in front of Chez ma soeur during the installation of Joan Mitchell: Choix de peintures, 1970–1982 at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, dated 1982

Jean Fournier standing in front of Chez ma soeur during the installation of Joan Mitchell: Choix de peintures, 1970–1982 at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1982. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Jean Fournier standing in front of Chez ma soeur during the installation of Joan Mitchell: Choix de peintures, 1970–1982 at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1982. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

A photo of Joan Mitchell, Jean Fournier, and an unidentified person at the installation of Joan Mitchell: Choix de peintures, 1970–1982 at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, dated 1982.

Joan Mitchell, Jean Fournier, and an unidentified person during the installation of Joan Mitchell: Choix de peintures, 1970–1982 at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1982. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Joan Mitchell, Jean Fournier, and an unidentified person during the installation of Joan Mitchell: Choix de peintures, 1970–1982 at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1982. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

As Mitchell wrote to the curators of her 1982 Parisian survey, in which this painting was included, “[Painting] is the opposite of death. It permits one to survive, it also permits one to live. For me, Chez ma soeur, for example, is profoundly sad … it’s sadness in full sunlight as there is joy in the rain.”

A photo of Joan Mitchell’s garden in Vétheuil, dated 1986.

Joan Mitchell’s garden in Vétheuil, 1986. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Joan Mitchell’s garden in Vétheuil, 1986. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, circa 1982.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, c. 1982
Oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 18 inches (54 x 45.7 cm)
Framed: 23 x 19 1/2 inches (58.4 x 49.5 cm)

A number of small-scale canvases from across this period punctuate the exhibition. Throughout her career, Mitchell played with scale, frequently creating intimately sized works in both single and multi-panel formats that reflect her overall compositional dynamism and experimental approach to her practice. Mitchell was able to easily move these compositions around her studio—recombining, comparing, and contrasting them—allowing her to create myriad variations on a theme. 

An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, circa 1982.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, c. 1982
Oil on canvas
18 x 15 inches (45.7 x 38.1 cm)
Framed: 19 1/2 x 16 1/2 inches (49.5 x 41.9 cm)

“It was the feeling of this tree—as it was always the feeling of the body of water, or the landscape, or the sunflower, rather than its literal presence in nature—that Mitchell searched for. The idea of pictorial representation, in her hands, became something more like transformation.”

—Jane Livingston, curator, 2002

A photo of Joan Mitchell’s garden in Vétheuil.

Joan Mitchell’s garden in Vétheuil. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Joan Mitchell’s garden in Vétheuil. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Installation view of Joan Mitchell Paintings 1979-1985 at David Zwirner in New York, 2022

Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

The works on view bookend the artist’s important Grande Vallée cycle of 1983 to 1984, which curator Yvette Y. Lee describes as providing “the imaginative fuel for an extended investigation of the capacity of oil paint on canvas to explore the effects of light and spatial relationships.” A selection of these works is on view at the Fondation Louis Vuittion in Paris.

An installation view of the exhibition "Monet – Mitchell," at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, dated 2022.

Installation view, Monet – Mitchell, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, 2022. © Fondation Louis Vuitton / Marc Domage

Installation view, Monet – Mitchell, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, 2022. © Fondation Louis Vuitton / Marc Domage

An installation view of the exhibition "Monet – Mitchell," at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, dated 2022.

Installation view, Monet – Mitchell, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, 2022. © Fondation Louis Vuitton / Marc Domage

Installation view, Monet – Mitchell, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, 2022. © Fondation Louis Vuitton / Marc Domage

A photo of Joan Mitchell in Vétheuil, dated 1985.

Joan Mitchell in Vétheuil, 1985. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Joan Mitchell in Vétheuil, 1985. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Mitchell’s paintings began to shift in tone in the wake of the Grande Vallée cycle. Beginning in the summer of 1984, she experienced a number of personal health setbacks and the paintings that followed, which she bestowed with open-ended, existentially inflected titles, consequently turned inward.

An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, circa 1984.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, c. 1984
Oil on canvas
28 1/2 x 19 3/4 inches (72.4 x 50.2 cm)
Framed: 30 1/4 x 21 1/4 inches (76.8 x 54 cm)

“Her pictorial approach owes a great deal to Willem de Kooning, to Franz Kline…. The light, color and sheer love of painting owe a great deal to France…. Many of the great blues in painting are French, from Poussin through Cezanne and Monet, to the point where blue almost seems to be a French color.”

—Michael Brenson, The New York Times, 1989

A photo of Joan Mitchell and an unidentified person in her Vétheuil studio.

Joan Mitchell and an unidentified person in her Vétheuil studio. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Joan Mitchell and an unidentified person in her Vétheuil studio. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, dated 1984.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, 1984
Oil on canvas
18 x 13 inches (45.7 x 33 cm)
Framed: 19 1/2 x 14 3/8 inches (49.5 x 36.5 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, called 1984.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, 1984
Oil on canvas
16 x 13 inches (40.6 x 33 cm)
Framed: 17 1/4 x 14 3/8 inches (43.8 x 36.5 cm)
A photo of Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, dated 1984.

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, 1984. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, 1984. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives, photographer unknown

“In Mitchell’s work ... meaning and emotional intensity are produced structurally, as it were, by a whole series of oppositions: dense versus transparent strokes; gridded structure versus more chaotic, ad hoc construction; weight on the bottom of the canvas versus the top; light versus dark; choppy versus continuous brush strokes; harmonious and clashing juxtapositions of hue—all are potent signs of meaning and feeling.”

—Linda Nochlin, art historian and author

Installation view of Joan Mitchell Paintings 1979-1985 at David Zwirner in New York, 2022

Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Joan Mitchell: Paintings, 1979–1985, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

In the virtuosic Then, Last Time IV, the pure physicality of Mitchell’s brushwork is further laid bare as the negative space that she so confidently evacuated from her works in the earlier part of the decade begins to reappear, presaging her masterful late paintings of the 1990s. Throughout this time, Mitchell continued to look to painting as a means of translating her own experiences and harnessing the vitality of her impressions. She resolutely returned to her studio and continued to paint, telling art critic and philosopher Yves Michaud in 1986 simply, “There I exist in painting.”

A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Then, Last Time IV, dated 1985.

Joan Mitchell

Then, Last Time IV, 1985
Oil on canvas
100 1/2 x 76 5/8 inches (255.3 x 194.6 cm)
Framed: 104 1/2 x 80 5/8 inches (265.4 x 204.8 cm)

“One of the great physical tours de force of her later years is the unheralded canvas Then, Last Time IV. This painting distills her knowledge of the broad brush stroke, of how to lay down large, calligraphic marks on canvas in a hugely active and yet essentialized spirit…. [It] is a work whose clarity, strength, and apparent ‘one-off’ quality distinguish it from most of her other work.”

—Jane Livingston, curator, 2002

A detail of a painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Then, Last Time IV, dated 1985

Joan Mitchell, Then, Last Time IV, 1985 (detail)

Joan Mitchell, Then, Last Time IV, 1985 (detail)

“When my paintings left my studio for New York recently, I was in the garden and the trees and the garden were beautiful and there was a beautiful light and I saw the paintings moving. A big strong man moved them with great ease and I saw all their colors behind the trees moving and it was like a parade and I was happy. I did not feel abandoned for a change.”

—Joan Mitchell, 1986

A photo of Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil garden, dated 1991.

Joan Mitchell in the gardens outside of her Vétheuil studio, 1991. Photo by David Turnley © David Turnley

Joan Mitchell in the gardens outside of her Vétheuil studio, 1991. Photo by David Turnley © David Turnley

A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Chez ma soeur, dated 1981.

Joan Mitchell

Chez ma soeur, 1981
Oil on canvas in four (4) parts
110 3/8 x 258 3/4 inches (280.4 x 657.2 cm)
Framed: 111 7/8 x 260 1/4 inches (284.2 x 661 cm)
Private Collection
A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Wood, Wind, No Tuba, dated 1979.

Joan Mitchell

Wood, Wind, No Tuba, 1979
Oil on canvas in two (2) parts
110 3/8 x 157 5/8 inches (280.4 x 400.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Estate of Joan Mitchell, 1994
A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Yellow River, dated 1981.

Joan Mitchell

Yellow River, 1981
Oil on canvas
28 1/4 x 21 inches (71.8 x 53.3 cm)
Framed: 30 x 22 1/2 inches (76.2 x 57.1 cm)
A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Petits Matins, dated 1980.

Joan Mitchell

Petits Matins, 1980
Oil on canvas
21 1/2 x 15 inches (54.6 x 38.1 cm)
Framed: 23 x 16 3/8 inches (58.4 x 41.6 cm)
A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Room, dated 1981.

Joan Mitchell

Room, 1981
Oil on canvas
31 3/4 x 23 1/2 inches (80.7 x 59.7 cm)
Framed: 34 1/4 x 26 1/4 inches (87 x 66.7 cm)
Linda Pace Foundation Collection, Ruby City
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, dated 1980.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, 1980
Oil on canvas
25 1/2 x 19 3/4 inches (64.8 x 50.2 cm)
Framed: 33 x 27 inches (83.8 x 68.6 cm)
Private Collection
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, circa 1982.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, c. 1982
Oil on canvas in two (2) parts
25 1/4 x 39 1/2 inches (64.1 x 100.3 cm)
Framed: 30 1/4 x 44 1/4 inches (76.8 x 112.4 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, called 1984.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, 1984
Oil on canvas
16 x 13 inches (40.6 x 33 cm)
Framed: 17 1/4 x 14 3/8 inches (43.8 x 36.5 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, circa 1982.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, c. 1982
Oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 18 inches (54 x 45.7 cm)
Framed: 23 x 19 1/2 inches (58.4 x 49.5 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, circa 1982.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, c. 1982
Oil on canvas
18 x 15 inches (45.7 x 38.1 cm)
Framed: 19 1/2 x 16 1/2 inches (49.5 x 41.9 cm)
A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Before, Again I, dated 1985.

Joan Mitchell

Before, Again I, 1985
Oil on canvas
109 1/2 x 78 inches (278.1 x 198.1 cm)
Framed: 111 1/2 x 80 inches (283.2 x 203.2 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, circa 1982.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, c. 1982
Oil on canvas
18 x 15 inches (45.7 x 38.1 cm)
Framed: 19 1/2 x 16 1/4 inches (49.5 x 41.3 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, dated 1984.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, 1984
Oil on canvas
18 x 15 inches (45.7 x 38.1 cm)
Framed: 19 1/2 x 16 3/8 inches (49.4 x 41.6 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, dated 1984.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, 1984
Oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 18 1/4 inches (54 x 46.4 cm)
Framed: 23 7/8 x 20 1/4 inches (60.6 x 51.4 cm)
A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Then, Last Time IV, dated 1985.

Joan Mitchell

Then, Last Time IV, 1985
Oil on canvas
100 1/2 x 76 5/8 inches (255.3 x 194.6 cm)
Framed: 104 1/2 x 80 5/8 inches (265.4 x 204.8 cm)
A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Between, dated 1985.

Joan Mitchell

Between, 1985
Oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 35 inches (129.9 x 88.9 cm)
Framed: 52 1/2 x 36 3/8 inches (133.3 x 92.4 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, circa 1984.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, c. 1984
Oil on canvas
28 1/2 x 19 3/4 inches (72.4 x 50.2 cm)
Framed: 30 1/4 x 21 1/4 inches (76.8 x 54 cm)
An untitled painting by Joan Mitchell, dated 1984.

Joan Mitchell

Untitled, 1984
Oil on canvas
18 x 13 inches (45.7 x 33 cm)
Framed: 19 1/2 x 14 3/8 inches (49.5 x 36.5 cm)

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          Paintings, 1979–1985

          Joan Mitchell

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