Joan Mitchell, a painter whose vibrant abstract paintings embody her response to her environment, was born in Chicago in 1926. After attending the progressive Francis W. Parker School from 1930 to 1942, Mitchell entered Smith College, where she studied art for two years. From 1944 to 1947, she trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and later received a fellowship that took her to New York. There she saw many examples of abstract expressionism and particularly admired the paintings of Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock. From 1948 to 1950, she lived in Paris, where she met Phillip Guston. After her return to New York, she became a part of a close-knit community of abstract painters such as Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning and became one of the few female members of the Artist’s Club. Mitchell was strongly influenced by the abstract expressionists; however, rather than concerning herself with the expression of emotional states, her aim was to convey her experience of landscape.
Joan Mitchell was an original talent among the non-representational American artists who reached maturity during the 1950s—a group often termed the “second generation” abstract expressionists. This group, which also included Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Alfred Leslie, and Sam Francis, was less wary than the older artists of European art movements and rejected their soul-searching anguish. In 1951, Mitchell was included in the groundbreaking “Ninth Street Show,” curated by Leo Castelli at the Artists’ Club in Greenwich Village.
While the younger group gained inspiration from the techniques of abstract expressionism, they felt free to look to their environment and other art forms as points of departure. Mitchell’s paintings are striking in their harmony of color and intensity of light, qualities that were attractive to Duncan Phillips. He responded positively to her subtle color and light, which he found akin to Matisse, van Gogh, and Bonnard.
Throughout the 1950s Mitchell’s gestural abstractions received wide acclaim, including successful gallery exhibitions. Mitchell returned to France in 1955; dividing her time between New York and Paris for the next few years. She moved permanently to France in 1959, working in a studio in Paris until 1968, when she moved to Vétheuil, on the Seine near Monet’s Giverny. She lived there until her death in 1992.