Jean-Paul Riopelle Canadian, 1923-2002


Jean-Paul Riopelle was born in Montreal, Canada, in 1923. He is attributed as being one of the first Canadian artists who achieved widespread international recognition and contributed to both Surrealism and the Lyrical Abstraction movements. He was an accomplished painter as well as sculptor.


Riopelle enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal in 1943 where he studied under Paul-Émile Borduas and joined Les Automatistes movement. He left the group in 1945 after reading André Breton’s manifesto, Le Surréalisme et la Peinture. He started experimenting with non-representational imagery and in 1947 moved to the Paris where he befriended Breton. He temporarily merged with the Surrealist group and became the only Canadian to exhibit with them. In 1949 Riopelle’s first solo exhibition was held at the renowned hot-spot of the Surrealists at Galerie La Dragonne.


After his brief spell with the Surrealists Riopelle’s practice changed rapidly, abandoning conventional painting methods to experiment with alternative tools to the paint brush. He used palette knives, trowels and spatulas, throwing the paint onto the canvas which created multiple layers of thick impasto, a recognisable element in his work. It was after he met acclaimed American Abstract Expressionist artist Joan Mitchell in 1955, his application of paint became loose and less dense. The two began their romantic relationship in 1959 that lasted until 1979. Fuelled by passion, love and alcohol, the tumultuous couple shaped the other’s career throughout their time together.


Riopelle’s notable exhibitions include his solo show in 1954 at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York and his travelling retrospective exhibition at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne. He achieved numerous awards and honours and represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and in 1962. In addition, Riopelle was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and in 1988, an Officer of the National Order of Quebec, and later promoted to Grand Officer in 1994.


Jean-Paul Riopelle died at his home on the island at Île-aux-Grues, Quebec in 2002.


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