Riopelle, Jean-Paul (RCA)

Technique: oil, watercolor, gouache, colored ink, acrylic, pastel, collage, lithography, sculpture, mural and ceramic


Nature remains an enigma: we never perceive it in its entirety. She's like me, always leaving. » Jean-Paul Riopelle 1993

Jean-Paul Riopelle, one of the greatest figures of modern art, was born in 1923 in Montreal. He began his career in 1941 at the École Polytechnique where he studied engineering and learned about architecture and photography, devoting some of his courses to them.

In 1942, he enrolled at the Montreal School of Fine Arts, then at the Furniture School from where he graduated in 1945. He subsequently discovered surrealism and modern art with Paul- Émile Borduas, a professor very devoted to his students and who grants them a lot of freedom. It was under the direction of Borduas that Riopelle made his first abstract painting. Borduas and several of his students, including Riopelle, formed a group who worked, socialized and exhibited together (1942-1945). This group became known as the “automatist group” for their spontaneous method of painting which draws from the unconscious as a source. In 1948, Borduas wrote the Refus global manifesto and Riopelle was one of its first signatories and created the cover page.

In 1947, Jean-Paul Riopelle moved to Paris and met renowned painters such as: Sam Francis, Mathieu and Nicolas de Staël. He also frequented André Breton, Samuel Beckett, Giacometti and Alexander Calder. During this same period, the renowned gallery owner Pierre Loeb purchased his entire production. The artist will exhibit more than a hundred times in the most prestigious European galleries and his works will appear in the collections of almost all the major museums in the world.

Let us mention that during the year 1955, Riopelle had a decisive encounter, of the type that changes the course of a life; his romantic alliance with the American painter Joan Mitchell lasted twenty-five years.

From 1949, he held several individual exhibitions in Canada, France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Spain and the United States. He also participated in several international exhibitions including that on surrealism, in New York in 1947. He was part of the Pittsburgh International Exhibition in 1958 and 1961. He was invited to represent Canada with his friends Giacometti and Borduas at the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art in 1954. He was present at the São Paulo Biennale in 1955 and also at that of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo in 1969. In 1963, the National Gallery of Canada organized an important exhibition of his paintings and sculptures across Canada. The Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris exhibited, in 1972, his recent works as well as a series of prints. Here, it was in 1967 that the Musée des beaux-arts de Québec presented a first retrospective of his work.

In 1981, the Jean-Paul Riopelle exhibition, Painting 1946-1977 , toured several major modern art museums. In 1989, the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York and the Claude Lafitte Gallery in Montreal dedicated two major exhibitions of works created in the 1950s to him. Other retrospectives will then take place at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and at the Villa Bagatelle in 1992. The year 1996 will mark Riopelle's participation in his last exhibition.

In 1981, he was awarded the Paul-Émile Borduas Prize for his entire body of work. When he died in 2002, his fame was such that many observers considered him the greatest creator that Quebec has ever known in the field of visual arts.

Media coverage

  • Course, spring 2010 edition, p.20-22, fall-winter 08-09 edition, p. 42-43
  • Magazin'Art, autumn 1996 edition, article p.82