Jean-Paul Riopelle R.C.A.

Vespérales, 1962

oil on canvas
18.25x21.75 in.

Riopelle Catalogue N. 1962.015H.1962

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York;
Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary;
Private collection, Calgary

1963, Riopelle, Galerie Camille Hébert, Montreal, cat. no. 9;
2009, Riopelle: An Exhibition of Works from Private Calgary Collections, Masters Gallery Ltd, Calgary;
2010: Riopelle: The Glory of Abstraction, Glenbow Museum, Calgary;

Yseult Riopelle, Catalogue Raisonné de Jean Paul Riopelle, vol. III, 1960-1965, p. 147;

Ascribing literal meaning to abstract paintings is a step we should hesitate to take, but with Jean Paul Riopelle’s evocative titles, the temptation is often quite strong. Vespérales, or Evening, when understood as a title, brings a variety of considerations to this work. We can see it as an interpretation of the edge of night; light fading, sky reddened, shadows deepening, an interpretation reinforced by the horizon-like bottom edge of the work – which we can also see as a foreground. Or we can remember the break with the Catholic Church that spurred The Automatists into their painterly revolt. In the canonical hours that mark prayers, evening prayers – vespers – are sung in late afternoon or early evening. An additional layer of interest can be found while considering the work in that context.

By 1962, when this work was painted. Riopelle was immersed in Fluid Abstraction, in a period that bridges the Mosaïques of the 1950s and the Icebergs of the 1960s. Elements of both are seen here, impasto has been toned down in favour of movement, which is furious and intense, and large passages become self-contained – not yet divided as we will begin to see in his work in a few years’ time – but hinting that reconfiguration of space was on its way.

Jean Paul Riopelle was born in 1923 in Montreal, Quebec. Interested in both art and drafting from an early age, Riopelle’s artistic endeavours were originally based in Academic-style still-life and landscape works He attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts briefly before moving on to study at the École du Meuble in…