LOT 013

1924 - 2001

À bas la cadence
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1959 and on verso signed, titled À bas la cadene [sic] and dated
38 1/4 x 51 1/4 in, 97.2 x 130.2 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $200,000 CAD

Sold for: $157,250

Preview at:

Collection of the Artist, Montreal
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Montreal, 1997

Marcelle Ferron’s abstract painting distinguishes itself through the primacy of gesture, the illuminated strength of the colour, and the harmonious balance of her compositions. One of the youngest signatories to the 1948 Refus global, Ferron was introduced to Automatist painting techniques by Paul-Émile Borduas. She soon developed an immensely personal vision of painting that prioritized emotional, subconscious response over rational preconception. In 1953, as the Automatists were dissolving, she moved to Paris. This would prove to be the start of her most productive and revolutionary period, and the dazzling works she painted during her 13 years in France would propel her to international recognition among important galleries and collectors.

Whereas her Montreal-period works were dense, darker compositions, characterized by deep shadow and interior glow, the paintings she developed while in Paris were larger and looser, characterized by flashes of prismatic colour and spacious illuminated whites, applied to the canvas with energetic movement. This stylistic shift was partially in response to the demands of the European market, which desired more lively, chromatic painting. More tangibly, Paris provided Ferron with access to better-quality materials, which enabled her to drive her painting to its dramatic potential.

In particular, she received a batch of expensive pigments from a patron in the late 1950s, bringing brighter and more vibrant colour; likewise, the award of a major Canada Council grant in 1957—unusual for a Canadian artist working abroad—would enable her to secure funding for a rush of larger-scale canvases. She also started to use larger tools: having long eschewed brushes in favour of palette knives and spatulas, she had huge blades made up by a metalsmith. These squeegees in varying lengths and widths, sometimes up to a metre long, allowed her unfettered capacity to form animated compositions in large, dynamic rakes and sweeps.

Ferron mixed and ground her pigments herself, binding them with linseed and poppyseed oil, the latter preferred for its lighter colour and resistance to yellowing over time, especially when mixed with whites. She was particularly adamant about the use of white in her paintings, regularly revisiting completed works to reapply fresh layers of paint over areas that had become dirtied or discoloured. This continual process of renewal resulted in brilliant canvases, with her jewel-like arrangements of colour buttressed by the structural primacy of vivid whites.

It is within this tumultuous flurry of direct, enabled painting that À bas la cadence was produced. Painted in the same year as Ferron’s Le gypaète pourpre (private collection, sold by Heffel in November 2023), this work shares that canvas’s scale, though here arranged horizontally rather than vertically. Bands of blacks, greens, peaches and ochres breach across the canvas, hemmed in from the upper and lower edges by traverses of white. While the title instructively suggests to “slow down,” the horizontal procession of the composition conversely suggests velocity and vitality, as the geometric drags of colour are rendered in a furor of turbulent streaks. The overall effect is emblematic of the artist’s skill at rendering immediacy, gesture, light and rhythm.

The years surrounding this work were some of Ferron’s most successful and cemented her at the forefront of international abstraction. Her paintings appeared in several contemporary exhibitions in Paris, she had her first European solo show (at Galerie Apollo in Brussels in 1956), and she was included in the Third Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada in 1959, the same year as this work. At the VI São Paulo Biennial (1961), where she represented Canada alongside Ron Bloore, Alex Colville, Gordon Smith and Harold Town, Ferron was awarded the Silver Medal—a first for a female Canadian painter. On her return to Montreal in 1966, she transitioned from painting to stained glass, a medium that would occupy her for nearly 20 years. À bas la cadence remained in the artist’s personal collection throughout that time, until it was acquired from her in 1997 by a private collection, where it has been held ever since. Brought to the open market for the first time, À bas la cadence is a fantastic example of the artist arriving at her strongest moment.

Included with this lot is a letter confirming the provenance of the work signed by Lorraine Palardy of Galerie Frédéric Palardy, Montreal.

Estimate: $150,000 - $200,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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