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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 10:43 GMT
Canadian artist Riopelle dies
New York's Guggenheim museum
New York's Guggenheim: Home to Riopelle works
Abstract impressionist painter and sculptor Jean-Paul Riopelle - widely regarded as the founding father of Canadian contemporary art - has died at his home near Quebec City, aged 78.

His works are on display in museums and galleries around the world, from Quebec to the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

It is a great loss - he was one of the greatest painters we ever had in Canada

Jean Chretien, Canadian Prime Minister
Riopelle spent most of his career in France, where he befriended some of the last century's most influential artists.

These included writer Samuel Beckett, surrealist André Breton and sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

He returned to Quebec in the 1970s.

He created his last major work, L'Hommage a Rosa Luxemburg (Tribute to Rosa Luxemburg) after the death of his long-term companion, US painter Joan Mitchell, in 1992.

The narrative fresco of 30 paintings was more than 130 feet long, and made using aerosol spray.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said of Riopelle: "He was one of the greatest painters we ever had in Canada."

The artist was a great loss, and had been "an extraordinary character and a lover of Canadian nature", Mr Chretien said.

Riopelle was a giant of nature, and "Quebec's and Canada's greatest painter", said Museum of Quebec director John Porter.

Riopelle as a young man
The artist as a young man: Riopelle's career began in Paris

He had helped to "break the mould, push us out of our complacency", added Quebec's culture minister, Diane Lemieux.

Riopelle was born in 1923 in Montreal.

He first gained international recognition in Paris during an exhibition of works by the "automatist" group of avant-garde painters, of which painter Paul-Emile Borduas was a leading member.

Automatist paintings often took the form of vast fields of colour on which floating forms were painted using a spatula.

In 1948, Riopelle signed an artistic manifesto called Refus Global (Global Refusal).

This called on Quebec, then ruled by conservative premier Maurice Duplessis and dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, to open up to new ideas from around the world.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien
Jean Chretien paid tribute to Riopelle

In the 1950s, his thickly textured paintings, large, spatula-composed mosaics, bronze sculptures and ceramic murals won critical acclaim.

After his return to Quebec, he surprised the art world by moving towards more figurative art.

Riopelle, whose prolific works are being compiled into an eight-volume catalogue by his daughter Yseult, was also known as a lover of nature.

He was one of the first people outside the territory of the North American Inuit people to take an interest in their art.

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14 Feb 02 | Americas
Timeline: Canada
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