LOT 031

1904 - 1990

Femme en hiver
oil on canvas, circa 1973
signed and on verso signed and titled
40 x 36 1/4 in, 101.6 x 92.1 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

Sold for: $325,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Guy Robert, Montreal
Sigismund de Szalmassy and Lorette Provost, Quebec City
Private Collection, Quebec City

“In winter I paint snow, almost exclusively. In spring things green anew, on my canvas. Everything in my paintings is connected to some kind of memory.”[1] Thus Jean Paul Lemieux confided to his friend and biographer Guy Robert (poet, essayist, art critic), whose two lavishly illustrated books on Lemieux, published in 1968 and 1975, are considered seminal works. Lemieux’s reference to “some kind of memory” suggests he had long since given up plein air painting and working from live models. Henceforth he would stick to the confines of his studio, using the morning light to capture on white, wall-mounted canvases the stream of images that possessed him. Over the years a social microcosm of men, women and children took shape beneath his brush. He assigned them features, poses and apparel to anchor them in both the past and the present. Often they are staged before a landscape and gaze straight at the viewer. Other compositional planes plunge into the space, like experiences plunged into memory.

His models (who can now be thought of as mnemonics) can often be characters and backgrounds linked to earlier compositions. In just this way, Femme en hiver (Woman in Winter) seems somehow familiar. There is a sense of having seen similar subjects in Lemieux’s previous work: the white expanse of snow and dense, gloomy woods split in two by the path that leads to the far-off, lighted house; the sky in the darkness of twilight, weighed down with clouds that the stars strain to penetrate. We might on one level consider the converging blocks used by Lemieux to organize the pictorial space of Les Noces de juin (1972, Société Radio-Canada collection, Montreal) or Le Manoir (1973, private collection, sold by Heffel in November 2019).

On another level, we note that Femme en hiver is one of Lemieux’s celebrated series of nocturnes, along with Orion (1967, private collection) and La nuit des rois (1973, private collection, sold by Heffel in November 2022). This was a theme he never tired of painting. The figure looking out at us too, for all the originality of her face, hair and clothes, belongs to a cast of characters Lemieux had been working out in his paintings since the late 1950s. She poses full face in the foreground, her expressive gaze urgently demanding our attention. Does she want us to step over into her world, walk with her to the end of the path, to the winter horizon there? Her face is lovely, the full, red lips radiating an ardent sensuality that delicately seeps into the coldness surrounding her.

Lemieux was fascinated by the notions of time and space. His settings of fictional characters are deeply felt and evoke in the viewer a nuanced, thoughtful response. Guy Robert, the first collector to acquire Femme en hiver, fittingly used the expression “poetics of remembrance” to describe the distinctive pictorial approach, with its back-and-forth explorations of the stages of Lemieux’s life as a person and as an artist. Two decades later, art historian Marie Carani talked about the “Lemieux effect”[2] to designate his ability to reach a wide audience with universal, human-centred, timeless visual statements inspired by the land’s northern spirit and the strength and fragility of its people.

We have dated this painting circa 1973, the year Robert worked closely with Lemieux on the National Film Board documentary Tel qu’en Lemieux. The prolific Robert was also at work on his second book on Lemieux, to be published under the title Lemieux in 1975. To our knowledge, Femme en hiver, held in two previous private collections to date, has never been publicly exhibited or reproduced. It was painted on the eve of the 1974 – 1975 monographic exhibition that traveled to Moscow, Leningrad, Prague and Paris—the high point of Lemieux’s renown in the Canadian art community.

We thank Michèle Grandbois, author of Jean Paul Lemieux au Musée national des beaux-arts 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 Guy Robert, Jean Paul Lemieux, ou la poétique de la souvenance (Quebec City: Éditions Garneau, 1968), 125.

2. Marie Carani, Jean Paul Lemieux (Quebec City: Musée du Québec, in assoc. with Les Publications du Québec, 1992), exhibition catalogue, 235–63.

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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