Richly endowed with a striking array of texture and color, Joan Mitchell's Salut Sally is dedicated to her beloved older sister, Sally. Across this large canvas Mitchell effortlessly blends together patches of thickly applied yellow and blue impasto with rich swaths of oranges and translucent layers of paint that dissolve into trickles of pigment that fall down the canvas. Mitchell's choice of color palette is indisputably responsible for the warmth and joy emanating from the present work, as is the tactile surface that results from Mitchell's combined use of brush and palette knife. Salut Sally is in stark contrast to an earlier time in Mitchell's career when her work, particularly from the 1960s, regularly incorporated the emotions felt during darker episodes of her life. Yet by 1970 she had more or less become a permanent resident in France and her career had begun to move in a different direction. Her introduction to the Paris-based dealer Jean Fournier and her first solo exhibition at his sky-lit gallery on rue de Bac a few years earlier had proved a rewarding experience. It was this relationship that most directly helped with financially stabilizing her early artistic livelihood in France, and it is from Fournier's own personal collection that the present painting comes.
In 1967, the death of Mitchell's mother left the artist with an inheritance sizeable enough to purchase the estate at Vétheuil. The countryside granted Mitchell a privacy and physical closeness to the natural landscape that living in the French capitol had not. She would often sit out on her terrace overlooking the Seine and regularly worked in her expansive garden, planting sunflowers and other brightly colored flowers and plants. The solitude of the countryside, its rolling hills and valley lush with color and light brought much joy to Mitchell-a joy which can be felt in her works dated from late 1967 to the mid-1970s. According to Klaus Kertess, Mitchell's friend and handpicked monographer, life at Vétheuil was a time for Mitchell to be "celebrating and declaring her connections to French culture-that of its soil as well as that of its art" (K. Kertess, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1997, p. 33).
Salut Sally is immediately predated by Mitchell's first sunflower series from 1969, an homage to both van Gogh, who Mitchell had admired from first encountering his sunflowers at the Art Institute of Chicago at a young age, and Monet, a former resident of the town whose spirit was no doubt felt by Mitchell. Both Mitchell and Monet kept sunflowers in their Vétheuil gardens, respectively. No doubt Mitchell was familiar with Monet's own impressionist renditions of his garden and French life in the country in works such as The Artist's Garden at Vétheuil. Though there is a stylistic difference between the two works-Salut Sally's subject existing in the application of paint on the canvas as opposed to in the form of a précised figure-there is no doubt a direct influence of Monet's color palette on Mitchell's right before our eyes. Geometric patches of cobalt blue, red and green are layered up in the top right corner of Mitchell's canvas, balanced out by the speckles of sunny yellow and bright blue impasto that in both technique and color relays warmth to the viewer. Mitchell was most concerned that her colors should always appear just so when they dried on the canvas, and she was known to painstakingly mix, thin and apply layers of paint to her pre-primed canvases over and over until their surface met with her satisfaction.
The fluidity of Salut Sally's varied paint application and deliberate focus on pigment is indicative of Mitchell's painterly process. Mitchell usually listened to jazz or classical music while she worked, painting late into the night under a combination of fluorescent and incandescent lighting. At Vétheuil, Mitchell would keep the windows of her studio covered. However, to avoid total reliance on electric lighting, she would take her canvases outside into the daylight as need be-to be admired 'en plein air.' "I often paint during the night but I have nothing to do with night," Mitchell once insisted in an interview. "I also work in the afternoon, I check what I have done the night before. Certain colors change enormously with electric light. Blue is one of them. Yellow is another. They all change, but some really change. I do a bit of guessing. The next day, I walk up to the studio at noon and I am excited but also afraid: is it what I thought it was in terms of color? A painting which works in electric light does not necessarily work in daylight. I love daylight"(J. Mitchell, quoted by Y. Michaud, 'Conversation with Joan Mitchell,' in Joan Mitchell: New Paintings, exh. cat., Xavier Fourcade, New York, 1986, n.p.).
Salut Sally was exhibited in Mitchell's 1975 solo-exhibition My Five Years in the Country at the Everson Museum of Art and later shown at Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. Peter Schjeldahl's New York Times review of the instillation at Martha Jackson Gallery further elucidates the triumphant turn of fate Mitchell's oeuvre had reached with her time spent in the countryside: "If the current revisionist study of Abstract Expressionism yields any lasting benefits, I must believe that among them will be a recognition of Mitchell as one of the best American painters not only of the fifties, but of the sixties and seventies as well This claim will not, I think, seem large to anyone lucky enough to have viewed the recent massive and almost awesomely beautiful Mitchell exhibition-49 paintings, some of them huge. The wonder is that an art of such obviously taxing intensity has been sustained without compromise for so many years-years of comparative neglect that cannot have been easy on a woman as aware of her own talents as Mitchell surely must be" (P. Schjeldahl, 'Joan Mitchell: To Obscurity and Back,' New York Times, 30 April 1972, p. D23).
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Joan Mitchell , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Post War
Syracuse, Everson Museum of Art and New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, My Five Years in the Country, March-June 1972, p. 16 (illustrated).
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art; Toledo Museum of Art; Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Art Center and Austin, University of Texas, University Art Museum, Fresh Air School: Exhibition of Paintings. Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Walasse Ting, April 1972-January 1973, no. 22 (illustrated).
Santa Barbara, University of California, Art Galleries, 5 American Painters: Recent Work, January-February 1974, p. 17, no. 10 (illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, March-May 1974, p. 10 (illustrated).
Paris, ARC, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Joan Mitchell: Choix de Peintures, 1970--1982, 1982, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Valencia, IVAM Centre Julio Gonzlez, Joan Mitchell, September-December 1997, p. 57 (illustrated in color).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Washington D.C., Phillips Collection, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, June 2002-May 2004, p. 144, pl. 33 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
112 x 79 in. (284.5 x 200.7 cm.)
J. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, pp. 9 and 96-97 (illustrated in color).
M. Waldberg, Joan Mitchell, Paris, 1992, p. 101 (illustrated in color).
Jean Fournier, Paris
Jean Fournier and Jean-Marie Bonnet, Paris
Their sale; Artcuriel, Paris, 28 October 2006, lot 39
Private collection, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner