Jean Paul Riopelle
Biography and Abstract Paintings of French Art Informel Artist.

Pin it

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

For other Art Informel works similar,
to those produced by Riopelle, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.
For postwar works, see:
Postmodernist Artists.

For an explanation, see:
Art: Definition and Meaning.

Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)


The Canadian painter, graphic artist and sculptor, Jean Paul Riopelle was one of the foremost 20th-century painters, and probably the greatest exponent of abstract art, of his generation. A key member of the Art Informel movement (the European variant of Abstract Expressionism), he was associated initially with the Lyrical Abstraction wing, before becoming more calligraphic in style, not unlike the painting of Pierre Soulages (b.1919). A prolific artist, he excelled in many different types of art, including painting (oil, watercolour, pastels), drawing (ink, crayon, chalk), printmaking (etching and lithography), collage, and sculpture. In 1962 he represented Canada at the Venice Biennale, where he won the UNESCO prize. His last work was a huge mural painting, created with aerosol paint, entitled Homage to Rosa Luxemburg (1992, Musee du Quebec).

In 1944 Riopelle left the Ecole du Meuble where he was studying in Montreal to devote himself entirely to painting. To begin with he was influenced by traditional representational art - notably landscape painting - which he soon abandoned, under the influence of the Canadian artist Paul-Emile Borduas (1905-60), who steered him towards non-objective art. In 1946 he took part, with F. Leduc, in the first exhibition of 'Les Automatistes', organized by Borduas in Montreal. (See also Automatism in Art.) He visited Paris, where he exhibited in 1947, and then New York, where he was reunited with some of his fellow artists at the International Surrealist Exhibition. In 1948 he left America to settle in Paris. His friendship with Leduc continued and he also met the gesturalist Georges Mathieu (1921-2012). Andre Breton (1896-1966) and his circle of surrealist artists were also among his admirers. Riopelle's paintings were hung with those of Mathieu, Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Sculze) (1913-51), and Raoul Ubac (1910-85) in the exhibition 'L'Imaginaire'.

More anxious to express himself in action than in literary discussions, Riopelle moved completely away from the Surrealists, and settled with his family at St Mande. Between 1948 and 1954, he went through a very difficult period. After his break with representational art in 1946, he substituted a more monumental vision of nature for the early nocturnal landscapes crossed by a thin network of light. After experimenting with Tachisme, a gestural form of abstract expressionist painting which he thought shallow, he developed another technique about 1950-1, which he called "controlled drops" (egoutture dirigee), as in his Composition (1950-1). This was to lead to a more perfect mastery of his palette. To paint directly from the tube Riopelle now preferred a palette knife which, in the style of Cezanne, changed the canvas into a coloured interplay of impastoed mosaics: as in Chevreuse (Young She-Goat) (1954, National Museum of Modern Art, Pompidou Centre, Paris). The landscape is worked up through planes of colour which mingle together: see, for instance, his famous triptych Pavane (1954, National Gallery, Ottawa); and Meeting (1956, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne).

Later, by breaking his mosaic structure he reintroduced the calligraphic networks of serpentine blue, mauve and black veins: Lunes sans l'autre (1967). At the same time his interest in sculpture led him to re-create in his painting more representational forms. The surface becomes broader, the paint is thickly applied using the impasto technique, and stands up in lumps: Dedores (1968); Moorhen (1970). Frequent visits to the far north (1970-1975) were the source of works of recent years. He found inspiration in the games played by the Eskimos with string, and in natural events: Fonte (Thaw) (1973).


Art Informel

Other notable exponents of Art Informel in its main forms include: Serge Poliakoff (1906-69), Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-92), Alfred Manessier (1911-93), Wols (1913-51), Nicolas de Stael (1914-55), Asger Jorn (1914-73), and Karel Appel (1921-2006). Others include the calligraphic painter Mark Tobey (1890-1976) and the American tachist Sam Francis (1923-94), as well as the St Ives abstract artist Patrick Heron (1920-99).

Regarded as the leading Canadian abstract painter of his era, Riopelle's work is hung in some of the best art museums in Canada, France, Britain and America.


• For the latest styles, see: Postmodernist Art.
• For more details of 20th-century painting, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.