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Jean-Paul Riopelle

1923 - 2002

Born in 1923 in Montreal, Jean-Paul Riopelle was one of the major figures in post-war abstract art, and certainly the most important Canadian painter of the twentieth century. He was associated for a time with the Surrealist and Automatist movement. In Paris, where he settled in 1947, he discovered new affinities with the pioneers of lyrical abstraction. Renowned for his mental landscapes, Riopelle expressed himself by means of various media such as painting, sculpture and lithography.

At the dawn of the 1950s, Riopelle’s technique took a decisive turn when he definitively adopted the palette knife and renounced the brush, drawing, figuration, or any form of academicism. This gesture of emancipation had a major impact on his work and marked the beginning of the so-called “mosaic” period and international recognition, which began with his first exhibition at Pierre Loeb’s gallery in May 1953.

By applying pure paint using a spatula, directly out of the tube, Riopelle developed a very particular way of sculpting matter. During the 1950s, to better use a rich, powerfully chromatic material, the artist employed a technique made of juxtapositions and scrapings of paint along the canvas. This evolving use of the spatula translated into different ways of moving the tool, of leaving a trace in the matter, reflecting Riopelle’s tireless spirit of creative exploration.

Based on the observation of nature and landscapes, without ever trying to imitate them, Riopelle’s compositions have a strong immersive dimension. The artist created a world that was eminently personal to him, an evocative spatiality which the viewer is invited to enter in in light of his own sensitivity. When Life magazine called Riopelle “Monet’s heir” in 1957, it was undoubtedly to highlight his filiation with the master of Giverny, whom he admired, and their common way of painting landscapes at the crossroads between figuration and abstraction, sensitive spaces reflecting the interiority of being.

Contributing personally and decisively to the revival of abstraction in the post-war period, Riopelle was a bridge between Paris and New York, the new capital of modern art, fostered by his proximity to American artists such as Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell, who was his companion for fifteen years. This explains the presence of his works in the best contemporary art collections in the world: those of the Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, in Paris, the Guggenheim Museum or the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, the Tate Modern in London and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montreal.

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“I don’t draw from Nature, I go towards Nature”

Jean Paul Riopelle, 1995

Basil Zarov. Jean Paul Riopelle at the studio in Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson, circa 1976. Bibliothèque et Archives Canada. © Succession Jean Paul Riopelle / SOCAN (2020). Photo © Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.

“I get away from reality just as much as is needed: I’m not totally separating myself from reality. I’m taking my distance from reality. Which distance? The right one.”

Jean Paul Riopelle


Jean-Paul Riopelle

C'est rocheux, 1974
Oil on canvas
81 x 100 cm | 31 7/8 x 39 5/16 inches

Jean-Paul Riopelle, Des marais


Jean-Paul Riopelle, Vergers


Jean-Paul Riopelle, Sans titre



Art Fairs



Jean Paul Riopelle | Essence of studios

1 July - 12 November 2023

The Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence

Guest curator: Yseult Riopelle In the summer of 2023, the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght will present a monographic exhibition dedicated to the great artist Jean Paul Riopelle as part of “Riopelle 100”, the centenary of his birth. The exhibition will show Riopelle’s work as it has never been seen before – abstract and figurative […]

Jean Paul Riopelle | Essence of studios

At the heart of Abstraction Works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art

July 2 - November 22, 2022

Fondation Maeght

The exhibition at the Fondation Maeght will show works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art from the 2nd of July until the 20th of November 2022 and offers an immersion in the vibrant creation of the years 1945 to 1980. Home to a collection of more than 13,000 works, Fondation Maeght is […]

At the heart of Abstraction Works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art

Pierre Matisse, an Art Dealer in New York

June 11 - October 4, 2021

Musée Matisse Nice

Curated by: Claudine Grammont Hosting a large exhibition devoted to Pierre Matisse, the Musée Matisse revisits the exceptional career of Henri Matisse’s youngest son, a New York art dealer and a key figure of the 20th century art world. For about sixty years, the Pierre Matisse Gallery played a prominent role in the art world: […]

Pierre Matisse, an Art Dealer in New York


May 19- July 18, 2021 | August 6 - October 31, 2021

Musée d'arts de Nantes | Musée Fabre Montpellier

The exhibition United States of Abstraction. American Artists in France, 1946-1964 explores the intense presence of American artists and how they helped redefine abstract art in France at a time when the global geography of art was in upheaval. It is generally considered that Paris lost its status as the art capital of the world […]


Jean-Paul Riopelle : Catalogue raisonné tome 5, 1972 – 1979

January 2021

Yseult Riopelle, Fondation Riopelle

Texte de Ray Ellenwood : Masks, the North and New Configurations – Les masques, le Grand Nord et les nouvelles configurations, 2017, suivi de Addendum: The Question of Cultural Appropriation – Addenda: La question de l’appropriation culturelle, mars 2019 Recherche et direction Yseult Riopelle et Tanguy Riopelle Français/anglais. Plus de 1300 reproductions – 552 pages. ISBN : 978-2-922623-04-8

Jean-Paul Riopelle : Catalogue raisonné tome 5, 1972 – 1979

Riopelle, the call of northern landscapes and indigenous cultures

November 21, 2020 - September 12, 2021

Musée des Beaux-arts de Montréal

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is dedicating a major exhibition to Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), a towering figure in Canadian, Quebec and international modern art. Based on original research, the exhibition explores, the artist’s interest in the North and Indigenous cultures, with nearly 160 works and more than 150 artifacts and archival documents. It […]

Riopelle, the call of northern landscapes and indigenous cultures


December 16, 2018 - April 22, 2019


Figures incontournables de la peinture abstraite de la seconde moitié du XXe siècle, la peintre américaine Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) et le peintre canadien Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002) s’inscrivent, à l’image de Camille Claudel et Auguste Rodin, de Lee Miller et Man Ray, de Frida Kahlo et Diego Rivera, de Lee Krasner et Jackson Pollock, dans la […]



October 12,2017 - January 7, 2018

Musée des Beaux-arts de du Québec

A CELEBRATION OF TWO GIANT PRACTITIONERS OF MODERNITY Some 60 majors works have been assembled to examine their respective artistic careers in terms of their relationship, from their first meeting in 1955 until their separation in 1979. Designed by the MNBAQ and organized in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), supported by the […]


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