New toonie honours visual artist Jean Paul Riopelle

On the 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary visual artist Jean Paul Riopelle, the Royal Canadian Mint has issued a new $2 commemorative circulation coin recognizing his status as one of the world’s most influential artists of the mid-20th century.

The captivating artwork showcases a section of Panel 29 from his monumental fresco L’Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, which features acrylic and spray-painted silhouettes, including the emblematic birds seen on this coin. The fresco is largely composed of symbolic representations of the life he shared with his long-time partner, U.S. painter Joan Mitchell. The coin honouring Riopelle’s contribution to Canada’s cultural heritage began circulating on Oct. 3.

“Through the coins we issue every year, designed by artists from coast to coast to coast, the Royal Canadian Mint is a creator, promoter and supporter of Canada’s visual arts,” said Marie Lemay, president and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint. “On the 100th anniversary of Jean Paul Riopelle’s birth, we are delighted to issue a commemorative circulation coin honouring him as one of our greatest artists, whose talent and vision influenced a dynamic period in global artistic expression and touched admirers of his work and fellow artists in Canada and around the world.”

The uncoloured version of the new $2 circulating coin has a mintage of one million.

The artwork appearing on the reverse of the 2023 $2 circulation coin honouring Riopelle offers a small yet poignant glimpse of Riopelle’s acrylic and spray paint 1992 masterpiece: L’Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg. The immense 40-metre-wide triptych, consists of 30 separate panels rife with natural imagery and coded symbolism. It was painted in tribute to his lifelong partner, Joan Mitchell, upon her passing in 1992. Created at Riopelle’s studio on Ile-aux-Oies, an island in the estuary of the Saint Lawrence River near Quebec City, the fresco features the recurring theme of bird-like silhouettes, two of which from Panel 29 appear on the reverse of the coin. The coloured version of the coin captures the original colours of this multi-media masterpiece. The obverse of this coin features the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt.

A photo of Riopelle taken by John Craven shows the artist in 1952. Photo courtesy of the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation.

“I consider Jean Paul Riopelle to be one of the greatest Canadian artists of all time and, importantly, a true cultural hero, both here in Canada and internationally. I admire the artist for his energy, his uncompromising artistic freedom, and his deep love of our country’s breathtaking landscapes. Through this commemorative tribute, the Royal Canadian Mint is joining the Riopelle Foundation for these unprecedented celebrations, forever engraving his memory in Canadian history,” said Michael J. Audain, chair of the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation.

Riopelle was born Oct. 7, 1923, in Montreal, Que., and died March 12, 2002, in Isles-aux-Grues. Demonstrating his artistic prowess from an early age, Riopelle studied briefly at the École des Beaux-arts de Montréal before moving onto and eventually graduating from the École du Meuble in 1945. During this time, he painted with the famed Automatistes, a group espousing a philosophy of painting from the subconscious mind and with spontaneity. He moved to Paris, France, in 1947 and became the only Canadian whose work was presented at the Fifith International Exhibition of Surrealism staged at Galerie Maeght, an important moment in the history of surrealism.

Briefly returning to Montreal in 1948, Riopelle also helped draft and signed the Refus Global manifesto, an anti-establishment declaration by artists and intellectuals challenging the closed nature and prevailing beliefs of the socio-religious order in Quebec, which sowed the seeds of the 1960s Révolution Tranquille, a transformational period in Quebec political history.

Over his roughly 45-year career, his work was featured in more than 200 group or solo exhibitions in art capitals worldwide (Sao Paulo; Mexico City; Venice; New York; London; and Canada). Among other accolades, Riopelle represented Canada at the 1962 Venice Bienniale and received a UNESCO Prize. He was also the recipient of the 1958 Guggenheim International Award. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and a grand officer of the National Order of Quebec.

The significance of Riopelle as an artist stems not only from the beauty of his work, but that it touched several of the 19th and 20th century’s important art movements (Automatism; Surrealism; Lyrical Abstractionism; and Abstract Expressionism) while remaining distinct, original, and aesthetically stunning. His work, transcending a wide range of media from paint and sculpture, to mosaic and collage, consistently demonstrated his connection to nature, not only as a subject, but as a source of inspiration and guiding principle from which his work drew its essence. In addition to the aesthetic appeal of his work, his role as an artist who pushed boundaries and remained at the cutting edge of some of the mid-20th century’s most important art movements is a critical component of his legacy.

Limited to a mintage of three million coins, of which two million will be coloured, the new $2 circulation coin begins circulating on Oct. 3, 2023. It will reach the public through ordinary change as bank branches and businesses replenish their inventories of $2 coins.

The coloured and uncoloured circulation coins are also available as collectibles in a seven-piece Collector Keepsake coin set. They are packaged in a richly illustrated collector card containing uncirculated versions of classic 2023-dated circulation coins in every denomination, from five cents to one dollar.

Other collector products adding to the celebration of Riopelle include:

  • Coloured and uncoloured special wrap rolls of 25 uncirculated coins each;
  • A one-ounce pure gold engraved version of the circulation coin design, crafted of gold sourced exclusively from Quebec mines; and
  • A two-ounce Extraordinarily High Relief $200 Pure Gold Coin featuring Riopelle’s 1970 sculpture Petit hibou, also exclusively crafted from Quebec-sourced gold.

For more details, click here.

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