CC QMG RCA
1904 - 1990
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1962 and on verso titled on the gallery label
27 x 44 in, 68.6 x 111.8 cm
Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000
Sold for: $121,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Roberts Gallery, Toronto
Jack Ryrie, Toronto
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. William P. Wilder, Toronto
Jean Paul Lemieux Retrospective Exhibitions, Art Gallery of London, 1966, listed, unpaginated
Guy Robert, Lemieux, 1975, reproduced page 190
Art Gallery of London, Jean Paul Lemieux Retrospective Exhibitions, February 1 - 26, 1966, traveling in 1966 to the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, catalogue #31
Looking at Midi (Noon), a remarkable composition painted in 1962, one may well wonder how Jean Paul Lemieux could have claimed, “I am not a landscape painter. Don’t call me that.” To justify this assertion, he pointed out that he was too attached to painting figures to be categorized as a landscape painter. It is true that in his production the human figure is omnipresent, very often seen against a landscape. As well, there are a few instances of “pure” landscape, that is, scenes devoid of any sign of human activity. The iconography of Lemieux’s landscapes includes many hints of human intervention. In that regard, his approach falls within the Quebec tradition of landscape, as opposed to the vision of the Ontario painters of the Group of Seven, who celebrated the virgin wilderness of the Canadian North.
Midi (Noon) is a good example of Lemieux’s conception of the landscape. Despite the absence of figures, a human presence taming the terrain is indicated by the mounds of hay lined up in a golden field and the tiny white spots suggesting houses or farm buildings. By adding an immense sky that takes up four-fifths of the composition, the painter sublimates nature, for as he said, “The exterior world interests me only insofar as it allows me to express the world I bear within myself. In my figures and landscapes, I am simply trying to convey the solitude that characterizes us.”
The noonday sky is covered with a light atmospheric veil. The sweeping blue-grey plane is enlivened with tones of mauve. Lemieux did not want a large area of solid colour like those found in the Plasticien and abstract paintings prevalent at the time. The sky is laced with faint vibrations that echo the colours that have been carefully applied to the canvas in layers. The evanescent, immaterial effect of the sky contrasts sharply with the lines of force in the perspectival space of the ground, guiding the gaze to follow the curves and linear arrangement of the hay mounds. The eye is drawn across the scene to the far distance, where river and mountain meet on the slanting horizon.
Could this view have been captured on Île-aux-Coudres, an island opposite the town of Baie-Saint-Paul in the Charlevoix region? Starting in the late 1950s, the artist and his family spent half the year there. The river at the right and the circular effect of the wheat field and marshy area at the left lead one to think so. Be that as it may, Lemieux’s other landscapes from 1962 – such as Les glaces au bord de la mer, Les îles affligées and Solitude de l’homme (all in private collections) – are among the painter’s most minimalist, and almost “abstract.” Lemieux returned to the theme of the harvest in 1965 and 1966.
In the early 1960s, Lemieux’s work began being disseminated in Ontario – particularly in Toronto at the Roberts Gallery, Mira Godard Gallery and Canadian Fine Arts. In 1941, the Art Gallery of Toronto had been the first museum outside Quebec to acquire a work by Lemieux: Lazare (1941). It was also in Ontario that Lemieux’s first retrospective exhibition took place, organized by the Art Gallery of London and Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery in early 1966. Visitors to the show had the opportunity to see Midi (Noon) – to our knowledge, the only public presentation of this magnificent painting that so beautifully exemplifies the artist’s classic period.
We thank Michèle Grandbois, author of Jean Paul Lemieux au Musée du Québec, for contributing the above essay, translated from the French. This work will be included in Grandbois's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.
1. Quoted in Patrick Nagle, “Timeless Painter from Quebec,” Weekend Magazine (Montreal), March 16, 1963, 19.
2. Quoted in Jacques Thériault, “Un monde pictural étrange mais fascinant. J.-P. Lemieux s’explique sur sa nostalgie,” Le Devoir (Montreal), September 18, 1971, 11, author's translation.
Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000
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