Imagine you are a painter. Faced with low-paid freelancing and fierce competition, your chances of turning this passion into a profession are pretty slim. Now, imagine you are a woman living and working in the 50s; your prospects in painting become all the more minimal. Nevertheless, several female artists managed to make a name for themselves under these conditions. One such painter was Joan Mitchell, whose life and work continue to inspire countless artists around the globe to this day.

Portrait of Joan Mitchell. Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sander

Portrait of Joan Mitchell. Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sander

A woman who was true to her inner voice and her artistic vision, Mitchell’s interest in art began at a very young age.

Together with other contemporary female painters like Lee Krasner, Mitchell made the improbable happen, becoming highly-regarded by both art critics and fellow artists. However, she failed to receive the higher degree of recognition secured by her male contemporaries Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

A woman who was true to her inner voice and her artistic vision, Mitchell’s interest in art began at a very young age in her native Chicago. She began her training in the 40s within her hometown, before moving to New York City where she was strongly influenced by the ideas of the New York School, dominated by Abstract Expressionists.

Trees III, 1992 by Joan Mitchell

Trees III, 1992 by Joan Mitchell

Her gestural painting style is recognisable in her multi-panelled canvases in vivid colours as bold as her tenacity.

Inspired by renowned painters Wassily Kandinski, Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne, Mitchells’ work evolved as she later moved to Paris and finally Vétheuil, where her artwork became even more abstract. Her gestural painting style is recognisable in her multi-panelled canvases, which depict what she referred to as “expressionist landscapes” in vivid colours as bold as her tenacity.

Sides of a River II, 1981 by Joan Mitchell

Sides of a River II, 1981 by Joan Mitchell

Chord II, 1986 by Joan Mitchell

Chord II, 1986 by Joan Mitchell

Her work has recently been rediscovered by art historians and her paintings have been the subject of several exhibitions worldwide. Maxwell Anderson, former Director of the Alice Pratt Brown of the Whitney Museum of American Art, said that "Joan Mitchell's paintings reflect a fierce commitment to her work and her distinctive vision of Abstract Expressionism in an era when men dominated American vanguard art.”

The most recent exhibition of her work, which came to a close early this year, took place at the Ludwig Museum of Cologne, and included, for the first time ever, film recordings, photographs and other archival material about Joan’s fascinating life.

Joan Mitchell exhibition poster at Ludwig Museum of Cologne

Joan Mitchell exhibition poster at Ludwig Museum of Cologne

Through Mitchell’s monetary and creative contributions, we can be sure that her legacy will live on.

Encapsulating the essence of Mitchell herself, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, empowers artists whose work is underrepresented and possesses exceptional qualities to obtain a fund that will allow them to continue their careers. Every year the Joan Mitchell Foundation chooses 25 US artists to invest in, which are recommended by nominators and then elected anonymously by a jury panel. Through Mitchell’s monetary and creative contributions, we can be sure that her legacy will live on and continue to inspire generations of artists to come to boldly advance against adversary.

Words: Astrid Scheuermann