Mitchell was born in 1925 and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Arriving in New York in 1949, she took her place among an emerging generation of abstract artists, exhibiting alongside figures such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Along with Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner and a handful of others, she was one of the few female painters of this period to gain widespread recognition.
From 1955 onwards, Mitchell began to spend increasing amounts of time in France, eventually settling in Paris in 1959. Early paintings such as City Landscape (1955) and Ladybug (1957) capture the emergence of her exuberant language. Mitchell combined the influence of American abstraction with the lessons of European Modernism, engaging with the work of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne and others. During this period she also met the Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, with whom she would pursue a tumultuous romantic relationship until 1979.
In 1968, Mitchell moved to a house in Vétheuil, close to the former home of Claude Monet. A major exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris between 2022 and 2023 explored the relationship between the two artists. Where Monet had attempted to capture the shifting beauty of the natural landscape, Mitchell remained adamant that her paintings were non-representational. ‘I would rather leave nature to itself,’ she explained. ‘It is quite beautiful enough as it is. I certainly never mirror it. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with.’ Masterworks such as Les Bluets (1973), La Vie en Rose (1979), her River series and her late Sunflowers bear witness to this approach.
Christie’s continues to lead the market for Mitchell’s work. In 2018, Blueberry (1969) sold for $16,625,000, setting a new auction record. Other notable paintings sold at Christie’s include La Grande Vallée VII (1983), Untitled (1989) and 12 Hawks at 3 O'Clock (1960), each realising prices in excess of $14,000,000.