LOT 012

Rita Letendre
1928 -

The Subterranean
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1961 and on verso signed, titled and dated
36 x 42 in 91.4 x 106.7 cm

Estimate: $30,000 - $40,000

Sold for: $58,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Moore Gallery, Hamilton
Collection of Michael and Elizabeth Brain, Calgary

Sandra Paikowsky, Rita Letendre: The Montréal Years / Les années montréalaises, 1953 - 1963, Concordia Art Gallery, 1989, reproduced page 43

Concordia Art Gallery, Montreal, Rita Letendre: The Montréal Years / Les années montréalaises, 1953 - 1963, October 19 - November 18, 1989, catalogue #26

Michael Brain, a hematologist, and Elizabeth Brain, a family physician, were medical graduates of Oxford University. After qualifying as a physician and spending two years of National Service as a junior specialist in medicine in the Royal Army Medical Corps at hospitals in Singapore and Malaysia, Michael went to London to train in hematology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School. His discovery of the cause of an anemia with red blood cell fragmentation (microangiopathic hemolytic anemia) led to his being awarded the Oxford DM, a research fellowship spent at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and to his appointment as the first clinical hematologist at the Hammersmith Hospital and Royal Postgraduate Medical School.
The Brains came to Canada in 1969 with their three small children, Michael having been appointed to the Faculty of Health Sciences at the new medical school at McMaster University in Hamilton. Elizabeth also joined the McMaster medical program, as coordinator and medical editor of Learning Resources, which supported the delivery of undergraduate medical and other health science programs.
In 1994, they moved to Calgary to be near their two daughters and their children. At that time, Michael became an honorary research professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Cummings School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, a position he still holds.
Michael’s family included well-known medical professionals, such as his maternal great grandfather, Dr. John Langdon Down, who specialized in the diagnosis and care of the mentally handicapped. He published the original description of Down’s syndrome. Michael’s father Dr. Russell Brain (later Lord Brain) was a distinguished neurologist and wrote the definitive textbook Brain’s Diseases of the Nervous System. Russell became president of the Royal College of Physicians, and to commemorate his term, the college commissioned Sir Jacob Epstein to sculpt a bronze bust of him. Russell was already an art collector, and among the works in his possession were nineteenth-century Japanese prints and William Blake prints. While in Epstein’s studio he admired a bust of Marchesa Casati, which is offered as lot XXX in this auction. This environment of art stimulated Michael’s interest in art at a young age.
Michael and Elizabeth Brain’s interest turned to Canadian art when Michael was given a Harold Town print as an honorarium for contributing to a medical meeting. Around that time Ron Moore opened the Moore Gallery in Hamilton and introduced Michael to many modern paintings, by artists such as members of Painters Eleven. There he and Elizabeth met many artists, including Harold Town, Rita Letendre and Joyce Wieland, and subsequently built a collection, which has given them great inspiration.
A powerful painting rendered with astonishing texture, Rita Letendre’s The Subterranean captures the artist’s mastery of the Automatist touch. Executed in 1961, this oil on canvas embodies an important and dynamic time in the artist’s career, professionally and stylistically. At that time she started dedicating herself entirely to painting and began moving away from her narrow, mosaic-like compositions to favour broader and more instinctive planes of colour. Using a reduced but intense colour palette, here she applies her paint in thick, lavish impastos. She covers the canvas with a rich variety of brushwork, establishing the painting’s complex internal structure and sense of dynamism. In the centre, thickly brushed chunks of earthy tones melt into each other, bordered by dark slabs that hover above and below. Expressive daubs of cerulean blue and white thrust forward. Slightly off-centre, a delicate stoke of lilac seems to lift from the background. Intensely gestural and unrestrained, The Subterranean reveals an artist in complete control of her medium, with an acute sense of movement and rhythm.

Estimate: $30,000 - $40,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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