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LOT 018

1905 - 1960

Trophées d'une ancienne victoire
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1954 and on verso titled and dated on the artist's New York studio label and inscribed "$375" and "R.R."
24 x 20 in 61 x 50.8 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

Sold for: $181,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Douglas Duncan Picture Loan Society, Toronto
A Private Collection, Toronto
An Important Estate, Toronto

“Borduas, sa peinture, ses idées,” Le Devoir, October 19, 1954, page 7
Paul Gladu, “Borduas parmi nous,” Notre temps, October 23, 1954, page 4
Claude Paquet, Impoésie du primitif quantique, n.d., pages 41 and 42, https://archive.org/details/ImposieDuPrimitifQuantique/page/n97/mode/2up?q=victoire, accessed September 11, 2020
Claude Paquet, Polychromie des cultures, n.d., unpaginated, https://archive.org/details/PolychromieDesCultures/page/n69/mode/2up, accessed September 13, 2020
François-Marc Gagnon, Borduas and America, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1977, titled as Trophées d'ancienne victoire, reproduced page 26
François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas (1905 - 1960): Biographie critique et analyse de l'oeuvre, 1978, reproduced plate 18, mentioned pages 346 - 347, 380, 480, 491, 492, 493 and 537
Gérard Bouchard et al., editors, Québécois et Américains: La culture québécoise aux XIXe et XXe siècles, 1995, essay by François-Marc Gagnon, page 280

Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal, En route!, October 12 - 26, 1954, titled as Trophée d'une ancienne victoire, catalogue #2
Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Gallery and Art Museum, London, Ontario, Jack Bush, Oscar Cahén, Jacques de Tonnancour, and Paul-Émile Borduas, March 4 - April 5, 1955
Douglas Duncan Picture Loan Society, Toronto, Six New Paintings of Borduas, April 12 - 22, 1955
Vancouver Art Gallery, Borduas and America, December 8, 1977 - January 8, 1978

Literature continued:

Paul-Émile Borduas, Écrits II, vol. 2, Correspondance (1954 - 1960), editors André-G. Bourassa and Gilles Lapointe, 1997, mentioned pages 637n204, 711, 712n91, 767n298, 781 and 811n13

François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas: A Critical Biography, 2013, mentioned pages 329, 331, 366 and 540n25

Trophées d’une ancienne victoire is an intense, immediately identifiable painting by Paul-Émile Borduas that was produced in New York before his departure to France and final exile from Canada in 1955. Its heat and energy typify the dynamism of Borduas’s two years in New York, when he shed the Surrealism of Automatism and Montreal, immersed himself in a new milieu of American abstraction, and relentlessly advanced his art.

Borduas was born 30 kilometres east of Montreal, in Saint-Hilaire, Quebec. From childhood, his exposure to Ozias Leduc’s murals in the parish church, and his later apprenticeship to Leduc, attuned him to art’s ability to enchant and transcend. He later studied at the École des Beaux-Arts (Montreal) and the Ateliers d’art sacré (Paris). He assisted Leduc with church decorations and taught art to children until he was hired by the École du meuble (Montreal) in 1937. At the École du meuble, Borduas became aware of Surrealism via its literary sources. He cultivated the connections and interests that informed Automatism, with its preference for objective mysteries and individual sovereignty. The Automatists bristled against the conservatism of contemporary French Canada and stated their goals in 1948 in their manifesto, Refus global. As their leader, Borduas suffered the most in the backlash following its publication, when he lost his position at the École du meuble and was unable to get another. His wife left him in 1951, and in 1953 he departed for New York, never again to reside in Canada.

Trophées d’une ancienne victoire was painted at a crucial juncture in Borduas’s career. He had moved to the new centre of the art world and had his first solo exhibition there, at the Passedoit Gallery, in January 1954. Then in October of that year, he had his first solo exhibition of New York work at Galerie Agnès Lefort, in Montreal. The Lefort exhibition, En route!, was also his first solo show in Montreal in five years, and it was well received by the Montreal press, even if it did not understand contemporary New York painting and Borduas’s relationship with it. Strides Borduas had started in Montreal landed in New York, where artists such as Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock surpassed Cubism’s relationships of space and form. From these artists, and in his own way, Borduas exceeded Automatism to create his own new relationships in Trophées d’une ancienne victoire, the fourth painting from this important exhibition to have been offered by Heffel.

Suggestions of movement are not necessarily descriptions of movement, and Borduas’s titles are not necessarily descriptions of content. However evocative the titles, one would bark up the wrong tree to propose that this painting’s cascade of Van Dyke brown from top-left to bottom-right illustrates trophies of a historic victory in the form of the catenary of a captured vexillum in a Roman relief. Borduas’s titles are evocative and poetic parallels more than they are keys to meaning.

Borduas’s significance to the history of Canadian art extends well beyond his oeuvre and beyond Quebec. To other artists, his influence upon the Automatists was pervasive. Marcelle Ferron’s work of 1952 to 1962 is unimaginable without Borduas’s example, and his personal example had a profound effect upon her as an artist and an individual. Outside of Quebec and his lifetime, his commitment resonated deeply with Ron Martin, who paid homage to him in works and texts.

A benefit of a new place is that it is not the old place. Borduas arrived in New York when he was nearly 50 years old, just when artists reach the height of their powers. When he painted Trophées d’une ancienne victoire, his commitment to his art was exponentially more intense, and his experiences far deeper, than they had been six years earlier when Refus global was published, his marriage was intact and he could earn a living. Amid these challenges emerged the insights borne by Trophées d’une ancienne victoire: his only sanctuary was paint, his true terroir.

We thank Gregory Humeniuk, art historian, writer and curator, for contributing the above essay.

This work is included in François-Marc Gagnon’s online catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work at http://www.borduas.concordia.ca, #2005 - 1136.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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