Lot Sale Results

Jean Paul Lemieux

Jean Paul Lemieux

Jean Paul Lemieux

Jean Paul Lemieux

Jean Paul Lemieux
Post-War & Contemporary Art Live auction

Lot # 018

Jean Paul Lemieux
CC QMG RCA 1904 - 1990 Canadian

Les citadens
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1973
49 1/4 x 108 1/2 in  125.1 x 275.6cm

Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario

Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, https://www.mnbaq.org/en/exhibition/jean-paul-lemieux-silence-and-space-1204, accessed August 14, 2018
National Gallery of Canada, “Jean Paul Lemieux,” https://www.gallery.ca/collection/artist/jean-paul-lemieux, accessed August 14, 2018

A guide to the permanent display of Jean Paul Lemieux’s painting at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec suggests that the artist’s figures “move in a world of ‘silence and space.’ ” Evocative and accurate, this description also points to why so many art lovers find Lemieux’s paintings compelling. The people and milieus he evokes are highly sympathetic, and yet, in the apparent calm typical of his work in the 1950s and 1960s, also different from us. Les citadens (The City Dwellers) – pictured here – arose from a later point in Lemieux’s career, a time when he was more willing to express emotions such as fear on the visages of his characters.

Like the people depicted, this canvas is both familiar from and unusual in Lemieux’s world view. The wide horizontal format, subtle palette, and controlled, though never static, human interactions are vintage Lemieux. The number of figures – nine in the foreground – and the cityscape with its attendant urban activities that threads across the horizon, however, show that he continued to change as an artist. Although earlier paintings such as La promenade des prêtres (The Priests’ Promenade), 1958, included multiple figures, they did not typically bring us in close to the faces, and thus, the complex emotions of their subjects. Precedents such as La conversation (The Conversation), 1968, with its four male figures, were painted in the same period as Les citadens. Observing these subtle but pointed interactions is the great pleasure of this period.

A man at the extreme right looks away from us and towards the young woman in profile next to him - we see him looking at her and replicate this gaze ourselves. By contrast, the woman in the white coat who frames the composition on the left looks directly at us, but in a neutral, even ambivalent, manner. Singled out formally and psychologically, the man fourth from the right wears a mottled red coat that is bolder than any other in the picture, and a fedora instead of a more close-fitting hat. He has been placed on the diagonal, in strong contrast to the planar arrangement of all the other figures. Where does his sharp-eyed gaze fall? Mostly on the figure at the far right, but perhaps he also meets our eye as we take in the whole scene.

In 1967, Lemieux said about his approach to art: “I have no theories. In my landscapes and my characters I try to express the solitude we all have to live with, and in each painting, the inner world of my memories. My external surroundings only interest me because they allow me to paint my inner world.” Without contradicting him, it is important to register that the setting of Les citadens – a huge open space in winter, with an extensive cityscape against a lowering sky behind it – is urban and thus also a cipher for the subtle transmissions of anxiety and even potential conflict that we see in the group before us. The painting is an existential meditation: Do these people know one another? If so, what are they doing? If not, why are they standing together in this place?

Lemieux’s style and subjects are familiar, but his work retains the ability to surprise and challenge. He makes us keenly aware of our own slightly voyeuristic looking, which is ultimately directed to our own thoughts and feelings.

We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of Remembering Postmodernism: Trends in Canadian Art, 1970 – 1990, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $900,000 ~ $1,200,000 CAD

Sold For: $1,081,250.01 CAD (including buyer's premium)

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