Riopelle, Jean-Paul (R.C.A)

Technique : Oil, watercolour, gouache, coloured inks, acrylic, pastel, collage, lithography, sculptures, murals


"Nature is still a mystery: you never see it whole. It's like me, always slipping away."

Jean-Paul Riopelle, one of modern art's greatest artists, was born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1923. He began his career at the ‘École polytechnique’ in 1941, where he studied engineering and took some architecture and photography courses. In 1942, he enrolled in the ‘École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal’ and then in the ‘École du Meuble’ graduating in 1945. He discovered surrealism and modern art with Paul-Émile Borduas, a teacher who was extremely dedicated to his students and gave them a great deal of freedom. Under Borduas's direction, Riopelle made his first abstract painting. Borduas and several of his students, including Riopelle, formed a group that worked, socialized and exhibited together (1942-1945). The group, which became known as ‘Les Automatists’ employed spontaneous painting to express the subconscious. In 1948, Borduas authored the «Refus Global (Global Refusal) manifesto’ and Riopelle was one of the first to sign it.

In 1947, Riopelle moved to Paris . In the early 1950s, Pierre Loeb, a renowned gallery owner, purchased all of Riopelle's works. At the time, Riopelle associated with influential painters in Paris such as Sam Francis, Mathieu, Nicolas de Staël, among others. He held over a hundred exhibitions in Europe’s most prestigious galleries and virtually all major museums in the world have some of his works.

From 1949 onwards, Riopelle held several solo exhibitions in Canada, France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Spain and in the United States . He also took part in numerous international exhibitions, including one on surrealism in New York City in 1947; the International Exhibitions in Pittsburgh in 1958 and in 1961; the Biennials of Contemporary Art in Venice in 1954 and São Paulo in 1955; and the Biennial at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo (1969).

In 1963, the National Gallery of Canada held a major travelling exhibition of Riopelle’ s paintings and sculptures; in 1967, the ‘Musée du Québec’ held a first retrospective of his works.

In 1981, the Jean-Paul Riopelle Exhibition Paintings from 1946-1977, visited many of the world's greatest modern art museums. In 1972, the ‘Musée d'Art moderne’ de la Ville de Paris exhibited several of Riopelle's recent works and a series of his prints. The Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York and the Claude Lafitte Gallery in Montreal held two major exhibitions in 1989, of his works dating from the 1950s. Other retrospectives were held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and ‘Villa Bagatelle’ in 1992. Riopelle took part in his last exhibition in 1996.

In 1981, he was awarded the ‘Prix Paul-Émile Borduas’ in honour of his body of work. When Riopelle died in 2002, several observers noted that he was one of Quebec 's greatest visual artists of all time.

Media Coverage

  • Magazin’ Art, Autumn edition 1996, article pg.82 (French edition)