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2.14.2014 ~ two great loves

by | Feb 14, 2014 | joan mitchell, love, painting, riopelle

My parents during their engagement c. 1953

Today is Valentine’s Day. The day, sixty-one years ago, my parents “came to an understanding” after just two weeks of “going steady,” that they would spend the rest of their lives together. And they did. For fifty-three years they shared their lives. Not once in the forty+ years I knew them did I ever hear them raise their voices to each other. Never did I hear them argue. Disagree? For sure. Become irritated or frustrated with each other? Of course. But always the occasional displeasure was tinged with humor and goodwill. Yet never did I hear them argue, never did I hear them fight. They were respectful of each other always.


Theirs was a great love.

And while I’m sitting here thinking of them, a bit in awe of the caliber of their fondness and affection for each other, I find myself thinking of another great love.

The relationship between American painter Joan Mitchell (c.1925) and Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle (c.1923) was the antithesis of my parent’s marriage. Mitchell and Riopelle were lovers for twenty-four turbulent, alcohol-infused, volatile years.

Jean-Paul Riopelle and Joan Mitchell c. late 1950s

They inspired, criticized, lifted up, beat down, tormented and delighted each other artistically, intellectually, sensually, physically. Ultimately their love affair would drown in an ocean of hurt feelings, misunderstanding, disrespect and disloyalty. Mitchell would stay in France and live her elderly years in relative isolation despite critical acclaim and increased attention for her paintings; Riopelle would settle back in Canada—he was one of the icons of Canadian art of the 20th century—pursing women, wine and art into his 70s—and achieve yet further recognition for his work.

And then Joan Mitchell died.
She died of lung cancer on October 30, 1992.

“A few days after learning of his longtime companions death…Jean-Paul Riopelle would undertake, in her honor, the monumental L’Hommage a Rosa Luxemurg…A narrative sequence consisting of thirty canvases totaling approximately 131 feet wide.”(1)

A panel of “L’Hommage a Rosa Luxemurg” ~ by Jean-Paul Riopelle

When I read this, my eyes welled.
And when I viewed pictures of this immense sequence of paintings and imagined the pain and passion and love and sorrow that went into their creation, they welled yet more.

So moved was I at the artistic height to which this man’s feelings were elevated by the raw passion broken loose by the death of his long-ago lover.
To imagine this elderly artist, perhaps arthritic in his hands, unable to move as easily as in his youth, overcome with the need to paint, to release his throbbing emotions. Swirling paint and colors and shapes into an colossal expression of his heart in a “complex mediation on love and the passage of time.”(2) The thought of it moves me to tears.

 “L’Hommage a Rosa Luxemurg” ~ by Jean-Paul Riopelle

And were my father a painter? I have no doubt he would have painted four times those thirty canvases to express his feelings for his own lover, made his own sixty-one years ago today.