placeholder, title card for Joan Mitchell Border, 1989 Oil on canvas 45 1/2 x 35 1/8 inches 114.3 x 89.2 cm
“There [in my studio] I exist in painting.”

—Joan Mitchell in conversation with Yves Michaud, 1986

A painting by Joan Mitchell, titled Border, dated 1989.

Joan Mitchell

Border, 1989
Oil on canvas
45 1/2 x 35 1/8 inches (114.3 x 89.2 cm)
Framed: 48 3/4 x 38 1/8 inches (123.8 x 96.8 cm)

Joan Mitchell (1925–1992) established a singular approach to abstraction over the course of her career. Her inventive reinterpretation of the traditional figure-ground relationship and remarkable adeptness with color set her apart from her peers, resulting in intuitively constructed and emotionally charged compositions that alternately evoke individuals, observations, places, and points in time.

Border (1989) is a powerful example of Mitchell’s work from the late 1980s. For the artist, this was a time of profound creative development, growth, and focus on the possibilities of painting, but also a period of significant transition in her personal life and deep awareness of her own mortality.

A photo by Robert Freson of Joan Mitchell in her studio in Vétheuil, dated 1983.

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

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

Mitchell spent the summer of 1989 preparing for a solo presentation with Robert Miller Gallery that fall. This was to be her first exhibition in New York since 1986, and the artist created more than twenty works. In contrast to the meditative and sometimes-spare compositions of the mid-1980s, these new paintings were exuberant, all-over compositions, reflecting the artist’s renewed determination and commitment to her studio practice.

Pared down, elemental titles such as Days, Weather, Hours, Rain, Span, and Wind in this body of work suggest both continuity and inevitability. The title of the present work can thus be understood in terms of a formal boundary as well as in a broader sense of liminal space.

Mitchell’s late works in particular show the artist's appreciation for Vincent van Gogh. In its handling of paint, vibrant colors, and emotional charge, Border recalls van Gogh’s late paintings made in the countryside around Arles.

An image of a Robert Miller Gallery book spread

Spread from Joan Mitchell: Paintings, published by Robert Miller Gallery, 1989 

Spread from Joan Mitchell: Paintings, published by Robert Miller Gallery, 1989 

“In the ’80s, [Mitchell is] moving back and forth between the close ups and the grand, wide-open vistas, the corners of her garden and the spectacular view overlooking the Seine from the hillside where her house sat in Vétheuil. Both experiences generated what she called ‘feeling’ and both types of looking at nature show up in the paintings—the intimate and the immersive.”

—Sarah Roberts, Curator and Head of Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

A photograph by Joan Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, the view of Vétheuil’s Notre Dame Cathedral from Joan Mitchell’s garden, dated 1989

Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, the view of Vétheuil’s Notre Dame Cathedral from Mitchell’s garden, 1989

Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, the view of Vétheuil’s Notre Dame Cathedral from Mitchell’s garden, 1989

An artwork by Joan Mitchell, titled Days, dated 1989

Joan Mitchell, Days, 1989

Joan Mitchell, Days, 1989

Beginning in the summer of 1984, Mitchell experienced a number of health setbacks. Nonetheless, she would continue to look to painting as a means of translating her own experience and harnessing the vitality of her experiences and impressions. She resolutely returned to her studio and continued to produce works that required great physical effort in their use of gesture and movement across large, and sometimes multiple, canvases.

An artwork by Joan Mitchell, titled Land, dated 1989.

Joan Mitchell, Land, 1989. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Joan Mitchell, Land, 1989. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

As the curator Katy Siegel observes, “When we went looking for Mitchell’s late style [for the artist’s retrospective in 2021], what we found was not a misty, meditative final five years, but paintings that are shockingly experimental in composition, in color and touch, driven by sheer will and her awareness of the limited time she had left.”

An image of Joan Mitchell in her studio, Vétheuil, dated 1991

Joan Mitchell in her studio, Vétheuil, summer 1991. Photo by Christopher Campbell

Joan Mitchell in her studio, Vétheuil, summer 1991. Photo by Christopher Campbell

“[Mitchell’s paintings show] a very specific battle between containment and chaos ... [indicative of a] poignant visual searching.... Meaning and emotional intensity are produced structurally, as it were, by a whole series of oppositions.”

—Linda Nochlin, “Joan Mitchell: A Rage to Paint,” in The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, 2002

An in situ of an artwork by Joan Mitchell, titled border, dated 1989

A major exhibition titled Monet - Mitchell is currently on view at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, alongside the final leg of the critically acclaimed traveling retrospective that was previously on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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