Joan Mitchell was born on 12 February 1925, in Chicago, Illinois. She studied fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, receiving a BFA (1947) and a MFA (1950). Mitchell moved to New York in 1949, where she quickly became a part of the downtown art scene: she met Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Grace Hartigan, Jackson Pollock, and Frank O’Hara; frequented the Cedar Bar; and joined the Eighth Street Club in 1951, exhibiting in The Ninth Street Exhibition organised by The Club and Leo Castelli, which famously helped codify the New York School of abstraction. In 1952, Mitchell had her first solo exhibition in New York at the New Gallery. Having painted in an abstract style from 1950, her work became increasingly gestural from around 1952 as the fragmentary, inter-locking panels of vibrant colour gave way to off-white and grey toned compositions streaked with sporadic flashes of colour.
Mitchell remained in New York until 1955, when she travelled to Paris and met Jean-Paul Riopelle. Over the next four years, she flitted back and forth between the French capital and New York. Meanwhile, she featured in major group exhibitions, including at: the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1955); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1955); the Artists of the New York School: Second Generation show at the Jewish Museum, New York (1957); Art Institute of Chicago (1958); and the XXIX Venice Biennale (1958).
Mitchell settled in Paris in 1959, sharing a studio with Riopelle. Around this time, she reintroduced radiant tones into her compositions, emphasising the tactility and textural qualities of paint with her brushwork. By 1962, she was exhibiting all over Europe, as well as in the US. In 1968, she moved to Vétheuil and began exhibiting with Martha Jackson Gallery, New York. In 1982, she was the first female American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, and was the subject of a major travelling retrospective that spanned the US in 1988. Mitchell continued to paint, living in Véthueil, up until her death on 30 October 1992, in Paris.
Mitchell’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA); Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris; the Tate Collection, London.