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Artists Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell Photo

Joan Mitchell

American Painter and Printmaker

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: February 12, 1925 - Chicago, Illinois

Died: October 30, 1992 - Vetheuil, France

Joan Mitchell Timeline


"My paintings are titled after they are finished. I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me - and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me."
Joan Mitchell
"The painting is just a surface to be covered. Paintings aren't about the person who makes them, either. My paintings have to do with feeling, yet it's pretentious to say they're about feelings, too, because if you don't get it across, it's nothing."
Joan Mitchell
"Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work. This is just a use of space and form: it's an ambivalence of forms and space."
Joan Mitchell
"People will never understand what we are doing if they can't feel. All art is abstract. All music is abstract. But it's all real... We were all trying to bring that spirit, that spontaneous energy, into our work."
Joan Mitchell
"I want to paint the feeling of a space. It might be an enclosed space, it might be a vast space. It might be an object working with Hans Hofmann's phrase "push and pull," the structure, the light, the space, the color."
Joan Mitchell

"Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work. This is just a use of space and form: it's an ambivalence of forms and space."

Joan Mitchell Signature


Joan Mitchell is known for the compositional rhythms, bold coloration, and sweeping gestural brushstrokes of her large and often multi-paneled paintings. Inspired by landscape, nature, and poetry, her intent was not to create a recognizable image, but to convey emotions. Mitchell's early success in the 1950s was striking at a time when few women artists were recognized. She referred to herself as the "last Abstract Expressionist," and she continued to create abstract paintings until her death in 1992.

Key Ideas

Inspired by the gestural painting of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell's mature work comprised a highly abstract, richly colored, calligraphic manner, which balanced elements of structured composition with a mood of wild improvisation.
Mitchell rejected the emphasis on flatness and the "all-over" approach to composition that were prevalent among many of the leading Abstract Expressionists. Instead, she preferred to retain a more traditional sense of figure and ground in her pictures, and she often composed them in ways that evoked impressions of landscape.
Mitchell's abrasive personality has been a key factor in interpretations of her painting, which critics often read as expressions of rage and violence. Yet, almost as often, they have seen lyricism in her work.

Most Important Art

Joan Mitchell Famous Art

City Landscape (1955)

Informed by an urban energy, City Landscape is an iconic example of Mitchell's early work. The tension between the horizontal brushstrokes of vibrant color in the center with the surrounding whites exemplifies her use of the figure-ground relationship. The work also demonstrates her debt to Philip Guston, whose Abstract Expressionist work was often likened to Impressionism.
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Joan Mitchell Artworks in Focus:



From an early age, Joan Mitchell showed an interest and love of painting, art, and poetry. She grew up comfortably in Chicago as the younger of two girls. Her mother, a poet, writer, and editor, sparked her lifelong interest in poetry. Her father, a successful doctor, would often take her to the Art Institute of Chicago and other museums.

Early Training

Joan Mitchell Biography

After studying both art and English for two years at Smith College, Mitchell transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944 to study painting. The traditional training included classes in anatomy, art history, and drawing from the figure. Using the Art Institute's stellar collection as a visual resource, her student work showed the influence of Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, and the late period works of Paul Cézanne. She was awarded the Edward L. Ryerson Traveling Fellowship upon her graduation from the Art Institute in 1947.

Deferring the fellowship, Mitchell moved to New York City with the intent of studying with Hans Hofmann. She was intimidated by his teaching style and only attended one of his classes. But it was during her time in New York City that she was first introduced to the ideas and artwork of the New York School, which was dominated by the Abstract Expressionists. Attending the many museums and galleries, she saw the works of Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock. A year later, Mitchell left for Paris on the traveling fellowship. As her artwork continued to evolve during her time abroad, the influence of Abstract Expressionism was evident. Her paintings, cubist cityscapes, interiors, and figures became progressively more abstract. She termed her new works "expressionist landscapes."

Mature Period

Moving back to New York City in the fall of 1949, Mitchell was quickly immersed in the local Abstract Expressionist art scene. She was part of the regular gatherings of artists and poets at the Cedar Street Tavern and became friends with painters such as de Kooning and Kline. She was one of the few women artists asked to join the exclusive Artists' Club. Located in Greenwich Village, "The Club" was a center for lectures and discussion and provided a supportive environment for the Abstract Expressionists. Mitchell was included in their seminal 9th Street: Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, curated by Leo Castelli in the spring of 1951.

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Joan Mitchell Biography Continues
Joan Mitchell Photo

Marking the true beginning of her career as an artist, Mitchell had her first solo New York City exhibition at The New Gallery in 1952. The exhibition's critical success led to yearly exhibitions at the Stable Gallery. Through the 1950s, her work became more confident. Her artwork developed the qualities that would continue to define her paintings: her sense of color, composition, and tension between bold and subtle elements.

She divided her time between New York and Paris until 1959, when she moved to France permanently. This bold step moved her away from her success in New York and its burgeoning art world. Paris offered a different atmosphere and a different group of friends and artists including Jean-Paul Riopelle. She lived with Riopelle, a successful French Canadian artist. Their artistically supportive yet stormy relationship lasted until 1979.

The late 1960s marked a strengthening of Mitchell's ties to France. After her mother died in 1967, she purchased a home and studio outside Paris in the town of Vetheuil. The beautiful two-acre property overlooking the Seine was reflected in a renewed focus on nature and landscape in her artwork. Her style of painting changed in the larger studio. Less linear works using blocks of vivid color show the influence of Hans Hofmann. She began to create large multi-paneled paintings of two, three, or four panels. In 1967, she also began her professional relationship with the Galerie Jean Fournier in Paris, which would provide significant continued support of her work.

Late Period

Joan Mitchell Portrait

In 1972, Joan Mitchell had her first solo museum exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. A major exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art followed in 1974. Her paintings became more linear with vibrant brushstrokes of color reaching the edges of the canvas. These late paintings sealed her reputation as an inventive artist and a master of painting technique.


Joan Mitchell continues to inspire as an artist true to her inner vision, who created a large and impressive body of Abstract Expressionist work. Recognized by the age of 30, her paintings steadily matured and became ever more striking and profound. The Joan Mitchell Foundation, established in 1993, continues to celebrate her legacy by providing grants and other support for painters and sculptures working today.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Joan Mitchell
Interactive chart with Joan Mitchell's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky
Philip GustonPhilip Guston

Personal Contacts

Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Franz KlineFranz Kline
Frank O'HaraFrank O'Hara
Jean-Paul RiopelleJean-Paul Riopelle


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Influences on Artist
Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell
Years Worked: 1947 - 1992
Influenced by Artist


Joan SnyderJoan Snyder
Pat SteirPat Steir
Philip WoffordPhilip Wofford

Personal Contacts

Edward ClarkEdward Clark


Post-Painterly AbstractionPost-Painterly Abstraction
Lyrical AbstractionLyrical Abstraction

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Useful Resources on Joan Mitchell






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter Recomended resource

By Patricia Albers

The Paintings of Joan Mitchell Recomended resource

By Jane Livingston, Linda Nochlin, Yvette Lee

Joan Mitchell

By Klaus Kertess

Joan Mitchell

By Nils Ohlsen, Joan Mitchell

More Interesting Books about Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell Foundation Recomended resource

Official Artist Website

Artnet: Joan Mitchell Catalogue

Provides Bibliographical Information and a List of Works by the Artist

Hauser & Wirth: Joan Mitchell Exhibitions

Features Information and Image Galleries from the Exhibitions "The Last Paintings," "Sunflowers," and "Leaving America"

Gagosian Gallery: Joan Mitchell: The Last Decade

Includes Exhibition Materials and Image Gallery from the 2010 Exhibition

Joan Mitchell, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Recomended resource

By Brenda Richardson
September 2002

Mitchell Paints a Picture Recomended resource

By Arthur C. Danto
The Nation
August 29, 2002

Expatriate Mitchell Tapped Into France When Action Was Here

By Hilton Kramer
The New York Observer
July 29, 2002

Tough Love: Resurrecting Joan Mitchell

By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
July 15, 2002

More Interesting Articles about Joan Mitchell


Joan Mitchell Oral History Interview

Conducted by Linda Nochlin


Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter

Directed by Marion Cajori, 1992

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