CC QMG RCA
1904 - 1990
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1960 and on verso titled
24 x 40 7/8 in 61 x 103.8 cm
Estimate: $175,000 - $225,000
Sold for: $169,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal
A Prominent Collection, Montreal
Anne Hébert, Jean Paul Lemieux: Moscou, Léningrad, Prague et Paris, Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec, 1974, page 10
A distinguishing feature of Jean Paul Lemieux’s mature works is the economy of form they display without compromising their richness of expression. This refined stylistic approach followed the effusive narration characteristic of paintings from his primitivist period (1940 to 1946). In 1951, he proceeded with this transition in Les Ursulines (The Ursuline Nuns), collection of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, before masterfully bringing it to fruition in 1956, upon his return from a year’s artist sabbatical in France. Le visiteur du soir (The Evening Visitor), collection of the National Gallery of Canada, is emblematic of the minimalist shift running through Lemieux’s works between 1956 and 1970. “Henceforth it happens on an almost bare stage,” wrote novelist and poet Anne Hébert, a friend of the artist. “On the horizon line. At the highest point of attention, in all its mute density.”
Art historians have dubbed this famous period “classical,” highlighting the predominance of Lemieux’s original, spare and forceful language within an output that spanned more than six decades. By introducing into his painting fruitful relationships between the human form and the landscape, which he would thereafter associate with verticality and horizontality, the artist established a dialogue with those abstract painters with whom he shared formal concerns, without crossing non-figurative boundaries. Thus, during the great wave of abstractionism that surged onto the Canadian art scene in the 1950s and 1960s, Lemieux’s figurative art, pared down and even hieratic, was pleasing. Before the end of the 1950s, several of his paintings had entered public collections in Canada. The movement to acquire his works intensified thereafter.
On the art market, the breakthrough happened after his solo exhibition at Roberts Gallery in Toronto in 1960, and his shows at the Galerie Agnès Lefort in Montreal, in 1963 and 1965. For the rest of the decade, collectors fought over Lemieux’s paintings. Some went so far as to claim a number of them were sold even before they were painted. Art critics acclaimed the artist and his authentic vision of his country’s northernness; museums celebrated his contribution in large retrospective exhibitions in 1967, 1974 and 1991, in Canada and abroad. Thus, after 30 years of pictorial practice, at the age of 52, the artist succeeded in making his painting a prominent part of the contemporary Canadian art scene. Since then, collectors’ interest in the works of Lemieux’s classical period has never faltered.
L’ondée is part of this coveted output. Completed in 1960, the work bears witness to the painter’s research passions. First, we note the use of an elongated horizontal format that accommodates these new spaces, which are divided into two distinct planes, earth and sky, by a fluctuating horizon. Next comes the presence of a human figure in the pictorial field. A history and art enthusiast, Lemieux drew the inspiration for his characters from a vast repertoire of forms, notably from Sienese painting, books of hours, and from the works of Georges Seurat, such as Un après-midi à la Grande Jatte (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–86). Viewed front-on or in profile, the figure most often occupies the composition’s foreground. By contrast, more rarely do we see the figure in the centre of the large horizontal field, the painter preferring to take advantage of the tension created by the unstable meeting of the two axes, horizontal and vertical, in different areas of the painting.
That is just what is happening here with L’ondée. By situating his figure at the edge of the composition’s left border, truncating her silhouette and presenting it in profile, the painter gives the impression of movement. The ephemeral presence of the woman with the umbrella is comparable to a shower that releases a sudden burst of rain in a short time. This is how Lemieux imagined an allegorical figure to create a movement of time in space, a concept at the heart of his thinking as a man and a painter. In that sense, the appearance of this work onto the public scene after some 60 years in a private collection can only contribute to the advancement of knowledge on the art of this artist who has left such a profound mark on the history of contemporary Canadian painting.
We thank Michèle Grandbois, author of Jean Paul Lemieux au Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, for contributing the above essay. This work will be included in Grandbois’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.
Estimate: $175,000 - $225,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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