This remarkable painting by Jean McEwen, Midi, temps jaune, dated 1960, seduces at once with its sunny palette and highly textured composition. Its sister work, Les amours jaunes (1960), graces the cover of the catalogue published by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for its retrospective exhibition of McEwen’s work in 1987–88. This choice shows the great importance given to this pivotal year in his body of work.
Midi, temps jaune is divided into two asymmetric fields of colour by a backgrounded transverse line. This sectioning takes us behind the scenes in the painting, whose four cleared edges allow us to appreciate the many underlying pictorial layers. “For McEwen,” writes Constance Naubert-Riser, “colour must derive its depth from a constant permutation between layers of alternating opacity and transparency. Thus by the stratification of the colours rather than by a surface opticality.” Indeed, we observe pigment-saturated brushstrokes and washes ranging from Parma violet to emerald green, through carmine and sienna. In the foreground, at the far left, an ivory mass pierces through impastos of cadmium yellow, creating a dazzling effect, a pulsation of light, as when the sun is at its zenith and its rays at their strongest. A kind of summer heat wave emanates from the orangey, saffron, and lemon yellows, like drapes of light at their utmost clarity.