In the fall of 1942, Jean Paul Riopelle enrolled in the École du meuble de Montréal to hone his woodworking and design skills. Although he painted very little during this period, he met Paul-Émile Borduas, who was teaching drawing at the time, and a group of young artists who would go on to form the Automatistes movement. In 1944, Riopelle saw the exhibition Cinq siècles d’art hollandais [Five Centuries of Dutch Art] at the Galerie des arts de Montréal. All of his aesthetic ideas, burdened with academicism, were shaken. Consequently, he grew closer to Borduas’s followers and their free-thinking, avant-garde approach.
In 1946, Riopelle quit the École du meuble, and his painting became resolutely abstract. In the studio that he shared with Jean-Paul Mousseau, he produced over a hundred ink drawings and watercolours over the course of a year. Sans titre perfectly illustrates this feverish period when Riopelle abandoned all academic constraints, as evidenced in the supple and vigorous lines of black ink on the warmly toned watercolour background. The works from this production mark the definitive foundation of his oeuvre.
Still in 1946, Riopelle participated in the first few exhibitions, in New York and then Montreal, by Borduas’s group of young followers. A trip to France soon followed; after returning to Quebec, Riopelle married Françoise Lespérance, with whom he would later settle in Paris.