New York forensic accountant Joan Lipton always thought of her father's cousin, Belle Burke, as her "exotic, bohemian" relative.
A prominent translator, editor and writer, the now 84-year-old Burke used to live in Paris and Venice; had famous friends including author Norman Mailer and art collector Peggy Guggenheim; and had a Greenwich Village apartment adorned with beaded curtains and tokens from the City of Lights, including a poodle named Ebonite and paintings.
Lipton knew the art on Burke's walls was from someone she once knew, but it wasn't until a few months ago she found out they were done by late Montreal abstract artist Jean-Paul Riopelle, and that he gave them to Burke when she was his mistress in Paris in the 1950s.
Eight of Burke's Riopelle pieces are now up for sale through Heffel Fine Art Auction House's spring 2013 event, being held on Wednesday in Vancouver.
ink and gouache on paper,
signed and dated 1955
oil on canvas, circa 1954-1955
"I gather, from what she's told me, that he was married and had two young daughters and they started a relationship, and I think it was a very tempestuous one," Lipton said in a recent telephone interview.
"They were together for several years. He wanted to marry her and she tells me that she refused."
Lipton said it was the early '50s when New Jersey-born Burke (nee Notkin), a French and literature major, went to Paris to live and study.
She worked as a translator and editor and met Riopelle at a party during a productive period in his career, when he was wed to dancer Francoise l'Esperance.
They had an affair for several years, and Riopelle was said to be smitten.
Burke, however, wanted to end the romance for quite a while and returned to New York to get away from his marital pleas and work for then-senator Jacob Javits.
Still, Riopelle persisted, visiting her there and writing her numerous letters.
He also showered her with oil paintings, watercolours and a sketchbook containing 19 smaller watercolours (17 of which will be in Heffel's sale).
watercolour and ink on paper on board, circa 1955
oil on canvas, circa 1954
watercolour and ink on paper, circa 1953
Lipton said she wanted to sell the pieces through Heffel because she "really liked the idea of having these works sold in Canada."
"I felt that that was just sort of poetic justice, and I know that he has a daughter who has created a catalogue raisonné and I just thought it was the proper thing to do."
Other Riopelle works Burke is selling include two untitled oils on canvas: One is expected to fetch $100,000 to $150,000, and the other has a pre-sale estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.
Story by Victoria Ahearn/The Canadian Press