Jean-Paul Riopelle



Not on display

Jean-Paul Riopelle 1923–2002
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 806 × 1000 mm
frame: 914 × 1103 × 93 mm
Purchased 1957

Display caption

The French-Canadian painter Riopelle was one of the artists included in the 1951 exhibition in Paris, 'Véhémences Confrontées' (Opposing Forces). He had been living in Paris since 1947, and brought to his work both a North American background and a distinctly European sensibility. In the early 1950s Riopelle had experimented with dripping and splashing paint, creating densely covered canvases in vivid colours. He went on to develop a distinctive technique using a palette knife to apply the paint in quick, sharp strokes all over the canvas. This resulted in a thickly worked surface, or 'impasto'. This painting was executed in this way. The marks are suggestive of the painter's action in applying the paint.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting is in oil on a plain weave linen canvas, and is unvarnished. A Lefebvre-Foinet colourman’s stamp is present on the reverse of the canvas, which has dimensions that closely correspond to a standard Lefebvre-Foinet 40 figure canvas, measuring 100 x 81 cm. The canvas is commercially prepared with a priming of lead white in oil.

Riopelle has used a palette knife to apply thick impasto paint, which is also blended wet-in-wet on the canvas. The entire surface is textured with linear ridges of paint, and sharp flecks and peaks of impasto indicative of gestural applications and movement of the palette knife. The significant wet-in-wet working suggests the painting may have been created fairly rapidly. Riopelle is known to have worked frequently on several paintings at once, and his paintings were often completed quickly, occasionally in a single day. The paint of Perspectives is only applied to the face of the painting, with the tacking margins left clear, except for areas where it seems to have been intentionally wiped, such as on the top tacking margin.

The palette is dominated by bright colours and black and white. Pigment analysis has identified bone black, cadmium red, orange and yellow pigments, cerulean blue, Prussian blue, chrome green, and lead white pigments. Silica and chalk were identified as extenders in the paints. There is some variation in the surface quality of the painting with some areas appearing matte, and others appearing more glossy and medium-rich.

The painting is in fair condition. It has a history of delamination (flaking paint) caused by loss of adhesion between paint and priming in some areas. This is a fairly common phenomenon encountered in paintings with excessively thick paint and/or numerous layers applied thickly, and conservation work has been carefully carried out to secure and re-adhere lifting paint and prevent paint loss. Many of the peaks of impasto are hard and brittle, and therefore potentially vulnerable to damage. It is therefore important to handle this painting with care, and to minimise vibration, using additional packing and protection when it travels. Additionally, most of the colours on Perspectives (except for the black and white paints) are sensitive toward water. Water sensitivity is a phenomenon often seen in unvarnished twentieth century oil paintings, and is the subject of ongoing research (see the Cleaning Modern Oil Paints project). In order to protect the surface Perspectives is presented framed and glazed.

Further reading
Marie-Claude Corbeil, Kate Helwig, and Jennifer Poulin, Jean Paul Riopelle: the Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles 2011.
Marie-Claude Corbeil, Kate Helwig, and Jennifer Poulin, ‘Analysis of the painted oeuvre of Jean-Paul Riopelle: from oil to mixed media’ in Modern Art, New Museums Ed. Ashok Roy, and Perry Smith. London, 2004 pp.170–173.

Judith Lee and Lucia Bay
February 2017

Research on this work was undertaken as part of the Cleaning Modern Oil Paints project.

Catalogue entry

Jean-Paul Riopelle born 1923

T00123 Perspectives 1956

Inscribed 'riopelle' b.r. and 'riopelle' along top of stretcher
Oil on canvas, 31 3/4 x 39 3/8 (80.5 x 100)
Purchased from Arthur Tooth and Sons (Grant-in-Aid) 1957
Prov: With Arthur Tooth and Sons, London (purchased from the artist)
Exh: The Exploration of Paint, Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, January-February 1957 (29); Jean-Paul Riopelle: Painting and Sculpture, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, January 1963 (29); Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, February-March 1963 (29); Art Gallery of Toronto, March-April 1963 (29)
Repr: Pierre Schneider, Riopelle: Signes m?l?s (Paris 1972), pl.83

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.634, reproduced p.634


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