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Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  226 ratings  ·  35 reviews
“Gee, Joan, if only you were French and male and dead.” —New York art dealer to Joan Mitchell, the 1950s

She was a steel heiress from the Midwest—Chicago and Lake Forest (her grandfather built Chicago’s bridges and worked for Andrew Carnegie). She was a daughter of the American Revolution—Anglo-Saxon, Republican, Episcopalian.

She was tough, disciplined, courageous, dazzlin
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published May 3rd 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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4.01  · 
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 ·  226 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Richard Derus
Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Rating: 3.9* of five

The Publisher Says: “Gee, Joan, if only you were French and male and dead.” —New York art dealer to Joan Mitchell, the 1950s

She was a steel heiress from the Midwest—Chicago and Lake Forest (her grandfather built Chicago’s bridges and worked for Andrew Carnegie). She was a daughter of the American Revolution—Anglo-Saxon, Republican, Episcopalian.

She was tough, disciplined, courageous, dazzling, and went up against the masculine art world at its most entrenched, made her way i
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, art
1. So far it's a tedious review of family history. Interesting that Mitchell's grandfather was an engineer who built bridges, including the original Van Buren Street drawbridge in Chicago.
2. Now I'm in her NY days. I do not like her, which is good. It means the book is honest. It portrays Mitchell as fastidiously self-serving. OK, she's also deeply troubled. And bent on being an artist. I'm at the part where she despises her wealthy parents, while living off their $$, of course. Once her father
Sep 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, artists
It's hard to believe Joan Mitchell, that crusty, alcoholic, modernist pioneer was not just an ice skater, but a champion figure skater in her youth. There is a lot else fascinating about her beginnings such as her mother's career in poetry, her own poetry, her diving, and her enrollment at the Parker School despite her father's conservativism and racism.

Success in sports, a coveted education, marriage to a man who loved her, and family wealth that permitted her to pursue her passion were not eno
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'm surprised that I liked this book. Really. The author ticked me off at times with her use of "big" words - like "antipodes" for example. I felt like she was showing off her vocabulary for her own sake. And she loaded paragraphs with names, one after the other, names. Of course, lots of them were artists that were well known though there were others that seemed so part of the art movement of the time, yet I'd never heard of them. And then there were the people I'd heard of, the well known arti ...more
Jun 26, 2012 rated it liked it
I wish Patricia Albers could write as well as Mitchell could paint.

It's frustrating to read descriptions of breakthrough or outstanding paints without an image to reference; this volume should have had many more images of Mitchell's work, as where she was and who she was with had so much influence on what she painted. Albers' fact-checking is sloppy; for example,Mitchell was in the 1989 Whitney Biennial; there was no Biennial in 1990, as stated in the book. There is a lot of speculation and di
Sep 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Delighted to discover a new-to-me artist in Joan Mitchell whose paintings stir me.

I'm learning that art and artist are separate entities and one can appreciate one and not the other. For example, earlier this year I read Flannery O'Connor's letters and came away with enormous admiration for her talent, vision, and character, but found her fiction very difficult to read. In that case I value the artist, not so much the art.

With this book, it's the reverse. Love the art, but Mitchell the artist,
Aug 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Just once, I would love to read a bio of a visual artist that reads like this: "He/She was really sweet, drank only socially, didn't smoke or do drugs, and loved his/her spouse. And, he/she was a great artist." Guess not. Joan Mitchell sounds like a foul-mouthed bitch, a heavy drinker and smoker, emotionally distant and unable to form healthy relationships with men. Her one redeeming factor was her generosity to young artists. Still, the book was interesting in its depiction of how a nontraditio ...more
Jee Koh
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
An informative biography, full of details about Mitchell's family background, love affairs and artistic struggles. Her desire to be "one of the boys" of the New York School. Her fear of abandonment and death. Her steadfast love of van Gogh. She painted from the memory of a landscape, until she abstracted it in the idiom of Abstract Expressionism. The writing of the biography is in places too breezy and purple for my taste. The biographer clearly admires her subject, but does not hide her flaws.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
Joan Mitchell was a real piece of work!
Okay, if you are a normal person, this is a 3 star experience I think. If you are a Joan Mitchell nerd, it is a 5.

Very eye-opening. I didn't realize I live right where she did in Chicago, that she never really worried about money, that she lived so hard and slept around so vigorously, was a lifelong alcoholic and therapy devotee and was constantly painting.

You start to really dislike her in the book and then somehow it comes around and I found myself respecting her and feeling afraid for people
Richard Osborn
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'll state at the outset that Joan Mitchell is my favorite painter of all time, and IMNSHO the strongest modern painter, above even DeKooning or Pollock. However, I knew little of her life until recently, when I read Mary Gabriel's excellent "Ninth Street Women", which details the history of the New York School from the framework of the five dominant women who were there and painting from the beginning. The whole lot of them, men and women, lived fiercely and furiously: to a person they were alc ...more
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. I just "liked" vs. "really liked" it, but gave the xtra star because of all the work that went into it. Based on several mean words and acts reported, I don't think I would have liked Joan in person. As for the biography, at times the author does that thing I really don't like, saying they "would have" [fill in the blank]. I want to read facts, not speculation woven in as if it were factual. She also puts in a lot of very personal stuff (like a naked picture of the artist). When biogr ...more
Patricia Ogden
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a really fine book - I kept having to google each painting as it was discussed, and luckily, I had seen quite a few of them before reading this.

“There's something in this richness that I hate”, wrote Elinor Wylie in her poem, Puritan Sonnet. This comes to me later, after long looking and reading, when visual hunger is deeply sated, and turns away. But after all, no, I don’t think so. It’s Wylie whose pain has metamorphosed to cold stone, while Mitchell’s anxious, existential self genera
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent!!! She was one of the NINTH STREET WOMEN ARTISTS-( new books recently published, hope to start reading asap!) along with Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, Helen Frankenthaler I came away with a lot of compassion for her, especially from her childhood. She came across as both strong and vulnerable, if that is possible.

I took a long time to finish the book because it was backed away for my move from devon to Scotland, needless to say I packed it earlier that the move took place- wont do that
Suzan Scott
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. Fascinating insights into the woman and the painter.
John Daly
Mar 29, 2019 rated it liked it
A most interesting artist and painter, for me the writer falls short of her subject
Sep 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-bio
Barely out of the first chapter and already hoping I make it to the end. Pretty bad writing so far- author keeps inserting "arty" analogies: describes a childhood play costume of Mitchell's as "John Singer Sargent-ish muslin;" a gala event of Mitchell's parents as "backlit as if by Degas;" "ferocious storms and watercolor-fresh clearings," etc.

I typically enjoy long, lyrical sentence structure but these are clunky and trying too hard to be descriptive with trivial detail that just comes across
Ed Smiley
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not everyone will "like" Joan Mitchell. A classic "difficult" personality, she struggled with the gender bias of the fifties Abstract Expressionist era to become an accomplished and successful painter. She emerges as as an amazing individual, indomitable, sexy, loud, alcoholic, vulgar, passionate, socially brutal, insecure, ambitious, fearful, moody, vindictive, devoted to her friends and lovers, and haunted by the demons of memory and emotion, which she experienced directly as color and form. T ...more
The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
OFTEN CLASSIFIED AS a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, Joan Mitchell owed as much to the School of Paris as she did to the New York School. A card-carrying member of the Eighth Street Club and a regular fixture at the Cedar Tavern, she considered her friend and lover Willem de Kooning her father and her Freudian analyst Edrita Fried her mother. Read more...
Mike Tracy
Jan 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love her work- definitely in my top ten, but what emerges is a portrait of a thoroughly unlikeable person. I also suspect that the story of her artistic life would have been completely different had she not come from a family of means who supported her financially for many years while she established herself. The moral: the best way to be an artist is to be born wealthy. Still, she spent it well.
Terri Dowell-dennis
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
You can tell that Patricia Albers loves her subject. This biography ebbs and flows. At one point, I thought I would likely not finish it. The tale is a brutal read, often depressing, and as I looked at Mitchell's work on line I began to feel as though this artist needed an editor and no one was quite up to taking on the task. I wish there were more illustrations in the book to accompany Albers vivid descriptions. What remains is to see some of Mitchell's paintings now.
Jun 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
Another test of my Frank Sinatra rule: that an artist can be mean mean mean while their art can be nice nice nice. This author only starts, and then only starts again, to engage the wonder of these paintings, and instead chooses to psychologize a seemingly indulged, lifelong child. But like the biographies of DeKooning and Pollock, I can never get enough descriptions of the Cedar Bar in the 50s, and a time when poetry and music were more entwined with the milieu of visual art than they are now.
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating biography of one of the great abstract e press ironists, along with DeKoonong, pollack...A difficult sometimes extremely unpleasant woman who struggled with the bias against women in the art world, who remained totally dedicated to her art, in fact life was her art and who struggled with her demons all her life. Found myself just wanting to sit and hold the book after I finished.
Dave Holcomb
Jan 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Very readable, but very grim. My only real complaint, however, is the way the writer describes or refers to various pieces of artwork throughout the book, but then does not provide photos. There are only a half-dozen or so reproductions of Mitchell's art included, and none of them is all that relevant to the text.
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Her art didn't interest me as much as her life. Her mother was the editor of Poetry magazine, she flirted with Carl Sandburg, and she married Barney Rosset, who ultimately founded Grove Press. Radically her own person, Mitchell was equally tough on herself and on the people she called her friends. This bio is juicy and articulate, like Mitchell herself.
Jul 10, 2011 marked it as to-read
"I did lots of good drawings today, and read lots of Marx and wanted so to get in the Oldsmobile and pinch and bite and be generally irritating and fuck and then drink six cups of coffee and talk about China."
Alyson Plante
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
I always melt when I see Mitchell's paintings. Yet even as a Mitchell fan, this wasn't a smooth read for me -- a lot of picking it up and putting it down. With that said, my copy is now highlighted and dog-eared, so I'm not complaining. Will read it again, I'm sure.
Aug 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: favorites
As a female abstract painter working today, I appreciated Patricia ALbers' in-depth portrait of Joan Mitchell's brilliant talent and frequent struggles. I have written a more in-depth review here:
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I did a review on another book called "The Paintings of Joan Mitchell" and the review is really meant THIS book, which is a biography of the artist. Very good!
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Tough woman; tough, persevering art maker.
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Patricia Albers is the author of Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, art journals, and museum catalogs. She has curated many exhibitions, among them Tina Modotti and the Mexican Renaissance. She lives in Mountain View."