Joan Mitchell’s abstract paintings reflect the people, places, and experiences that made up her life. As she explained, to begin
a work she had to “think of something and get into a situation where I feel something, and where I love something, and it was George. George swimming at Barnes Hole [located in Long Island, New York]. We used to go swimming together. . . . I paint out
of love. Love or feeling is getting out of yourself and focusing instead on someone or something else.” George, however, is not a person. Instead, it is the name of the Mitchell’s standard poodle, who she loved deeply. “George Went Swimming at Barnes Hole, but It Got Too Cold” started out with various shades of yellow, but when she returned to the work, eventually Mitchell added whites and blues to create a feeling of chill. By then less happy memories had come into compositional play for the artist—including those of a 1954 hurricane in East Hampton. George was with her in that hurricane, and he died later that year. Mitchell suggested that the colors in the painting may have changed because of her memory of the blue tints in George’s fur, or solely because he was dead. Though the composition’s initial warm palette can still be detected in places, it is subordinate to the now-cold mood of the overall canvas.