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Sister Wendy's American Collection
Selected Works





City Landscape
The Art Institute of Chicago
Joan Mitchell, American (1926-1992)
1955
Oil on canvas
80 x 80 in. (203.2 x 203.2 cm)
Gift of The Society for Contemporary American Art
Acquired in 1958


Joan Mitchell, American, 1926-1992, City Landscape 1955, oil on canvas, 201.9 x 201.9 cm, Gift of The Society for Contemporary Art, 1958.193, digital file © The Art Institute of Chicago. All Rights Reserved.



Joan Mitchell was a poet's daughter who hoped to follow her mother's lead. Instead, Mitchell became a painter, perhaps not surprisingly called by one critic a "lyric poet in paint." As evinced by City Landscape, Mitchell's paintings were often characterized by their size and their light, often white, backgrounds. Vibrant streaks of color contrast against neutral backgrounds to give Mitchell's large canvases a lyricism and sensuality not often found in other Abstract Expressionist works.

Mitchell loved to paint landscapes above all else, professing a debt to Cézanne, Matisse, and Van Gogh. Ironically, one painter known for his landscapes with whom Mitchell felt no camaraderie was Monet -- ironic because during the 1960s, Mitchell left New York for France, settling in Vétheuil, Monet's home outside of Paris. Though Mitchell, too, painted her surroundings in her landscapes, she did not paint outside, as Monet did; her work was done in the confines of her studio, where she relied on her memory to provide her with her scene.

In the male-dominated field of Abstract Expressionism -- known best for outsized characters Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning -- Mitchell distinguished herself from the pack not only by virtue of her sex, but also by her paintings' intent. Abstract Expressionism had begun to flourish after World War II. With its roots in the nonfigurative early 20th-century painting of Russian Wassily Kandinsky, Abstract Expressionism also borrowed heavily from Existentialism and Romanticism. Existentialism was felt in the emphasis on the act of creating, not on the finished object, while Romanticism was expressed in the group's disillusioned attitude toward their chaotic postwar society. By the 1950s the Abstract Expressionists, also called the New York School, had absorbed these European influences and created America's first major contribution to modern art. Soon, though, the New York School divorced itself from its European predecessors, eager to establish a distinctly American sensibility. Mitchell, however, never minimized the importance of European painting to her work.

Unlike Pollock, for instance, whose work was renowned for its disjointed psychological subtext, Mitchell concerned herself with nature and beauty. Her work fits easily into the Abstract Expressionist camp because of her technique, but its lyricism and emotionalism establish it more as a product of one person than of an entire movement.


Since 1958, three years after Joan Mitchell painted it, City Landscape has been part of The Art Institute of Chicago's Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, considered one the best, most comprehensive collections in the world. Mitchell received the bulk of her formal artistic training at The Institute School from 1944-47.


American Gothic | Ceremonial Drum | City Landscape | The Hours of Queen Isabella the Catholic
Stag at Sharkey's | Still Life with Two Lemons | An Exiled Emperor on Okinoshima
Maison Maria with a View of Château Noir | Standing Bodhisattva | Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child
Netsuke: Baku, Monster Who Eats Nightmares | Ocean Park Series #49 | Bis Poles | Royal Statuary of Hatshepsut
Tughra of Suleyman the Magnificent | The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit | Grand Piano | Mimbres Bowl

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