“At first, sculpture was for me, a way of breaking
with the habits of painting. . . It was a war machine
against tradition and academicism.”
– Jean Paul Riopelle, excerpt from an interview
with Philippe Briet in Riopelle estampes,
peintures, Caen, Musée des beaux-arts et Hôtel
d’Escoville, 1984, unpaged.
The sculptures that Jean Riopelle created in 1961 and 1962, including the one presented here, are the first of his works to have been cast in bronze. Produced in single editions, the series was cast at the Berjac foundry, in Meudon, France. They were first shown in 1962 at Galerie Jacques Dubourg in Paris, before being presented at the Venice Biennale that same year, where Riopelle’s work occupied the entire Canada pavilion. He went on to win the UNESCO Prize at this event.
Fleur dit La Cage was featured in a travelling exhibition that made stops at the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Phillips Gallery, in Washington, D.C. The following year, it was presented at the prestigious Pierre Matisse Gallery, in New York. Originally the sculpture had two ears, but one broke off. This prompted Riopelle to add a subtitle: “Hommage à Van Gogh,” a cheeky nod to the Dutch painter.
Sculpture, for Riopelle, allowed him to surpass himself. In an interview with Fernand Séguin, the artist states: “My way of working with sculpture is, for the moment, a question of discovering or creating new forms. I make these forms using either a lost wax technique, or clay, so there is direct contact, and that’s what I find compelling.” Contrary to painting, with its brushes, palette knives, and other instruments, sculpting and modelling allow the artist to work with their bare hands. The notion of play held an important role here, and Jean Paul Riopelle found tremendous satisfaction in this.