American, 1925 - 1992
Joan Mitchell, an artist of international acclaim, was a steadfast proponent of painterly abstraction. Born in Chicago, Illinois, she attended Smith College and the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York City in 1947. There she enrolled in Hans Hofmann's painting classes and had her first exposure to the ideas and artists of the New York school. At the time, the art scene in New York was dominated by the abstract expressionists, and Mitchell was greatly influenced by the gestural work of Willem de Kooning. Drawing on her recollections of the vast waters of Lake Michigan that she saw as a child, she began painting large-scale canvases filled with slashing strokes of color breaking over an intense white ground. In 1948 Mitchell went to France on scholarship and, following her return to New York, quickly achieved prominence as one of the leading members of the younger, "second generation" abstract expressionists. Her paintings--with their vigorous, expressive brushwork in lush colors on a broad expanse of white--convey her sense of unity with nature. Of all of the second generation abstract expressionist painters, it is Mitchell who remained most faithful to the original ideals of spontaneity, individuality, and the expressive gesture.
During the later 1950s, Mitchell traveled frequently to France and moved there permanently in 1959, settling in the house in which Claude Monet once lived in Vétheuil, on the Seine. She continued to exhibit widely both in the United States and in Europe until her death. Her work is included in the permanent collections of numerous American museums.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]