On the second floor of the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, visitors arrive at an atypical display: Two large, square nature studies in dusky light by Claude Monet, removed from their frames, hang from a vertical island with a large gap between them. Beyond is a view to the gallery’s far wall, where a quadriptych—a four-paneled painting—by Joan Mitchell ripples and radiates in similar tones of deep blue, green, and lavender.
In Monet’s paintings, the trees and water lilies appear on the banks of the Seine in a fleeting moment. In Mitchell’s, titled Quartet II for Betsey Jolas (1976), the fragmented composition only barely alludes to a landscape, as though a tranquil panoramic scene has been rearranged into an accumulation of impressions, each asserting its own rhythm. (Jolas, a friend of Mitchell’s, is a composer and still alive at 96.) Quite simply, this juxtaposition of their works is breathtaking.
There are very few artists, past or present, whose paintings hold up, again and again, to Monet’s Nymphéas, or Water Lilies series, from the last decades of his life. Enter Mitchell, an artist who belonged to the New York School of Abstract Expressionists, and whose dynamic interactions of color are now being recognized in a major way. Evidently, the Fondation Louis Vuitton believes that this is Mitchell’s moment, celebrating her with a double-bill tribute comprising both a retrospective co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art, and “Monet – Mitchell,” a sweeping exhibition in partnership with the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. As curators Sarah Roberts and Katy Siegel state in the catalogue, these exhibitions “tell the story of a woman who was foremost and without qualification a great artist.”