In Printemps à Québec‑Ouest (1968), Jean Paul Lemieux depicts three figures wandering through a neighbourhood of red brick buildings, quite like those found in two other key works four years earlier: La nuit à Québec‑Ouest (1964, collection of Pierre Lassonde) and Nuit sans étoiles (1964, collection of the London Regional Art Gallery, now Museum London). Here, the scene is set in daylight, under a veil of clouds filtering a bluish light sufficient to melt the fallen snow before spring’s imminent arrival. The strolling figures have removed scarves and mittens, tentatively exposing areas of bare skin. The painting draws in tightly on a ghostly but real town, its roofs and barricaded facades—the composition’s structural elements—truncated on either side of the canvas and on top, converging toward the central female figure.
Cut off behind the cluster of closed buildings, the horizon cannot be seen. The eye is thus perpetually redirected toward the centre of the painting, ricocheting between the two lateral figures yet unable to escape the pictorial space. Of this element, Maria Carani notes: “the detached, fragmented figure on the left of the painting, enigmatic and set off from the background, evinces a kind of perceptive shock, with meaning and affect following after. Portrayed as cut‑outs or silhouettes, the figures occupy the painting’s right and left margins, further reinforcing a sense of the dramatic” (translation ours). Indeed, the viewer’s gaze alights upon the object of the artist’s hopes: the young girl, her tiny pupils nestled in veiled orbits. Regarding us in like manner, she scrutinizes the horizon behind us. The contemplation is thus reversed: we become the landscape that frees these characters from their enclave—an interpretation which, drawn from a mature work, perfectly composed, portends a dénouement of a certain nuance.
At that time, Lemieux found himself increasingly drawn to atypical formats and supports—he considered traditional formats uninspiring—and to a more cinematic framing, which supported a formal rigour bespeaking an intimate worldview, a Weltanschauung. In a few works, such as Québec brûle (1967) and The Aftermath (1968), Lemieux explored his dystopian vision of the world directly, yet kept his stylistic sensibility within reach. For its part, Printemps à Québec-Ouest eludes fixed categories, manifesting at once the whole of Lemieux’s work—past, present, and future. What’s more, this pivotal painting brings together every element that marked the artist’s oeuvre: desolate landscapes, cantilevered urban settings, fragmented and enigmatic figures, sloped horizons, seasonal cycles, and the human condition. It is a piece that evokes hope and uplift at a moment when the artist’s work became fully acclaimed and rewarded, here and elsewhere.
At the end of the 1950s and throughout the decade that followed, Lemieux’s reputation experienced spectacular growth, both at home and abroad. He was honoured with solo exhibitions in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City, and his works were included in four biennial exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada. His paintings were also shown in the context of exhibitions on Canadian art at the São Paulo Biennale, the Brussels World Fair, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Musée Galliera in Paris. He also represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1960.1 In 1966, Lemieux became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 1967, he won the Canada Council Medal, and, in 1968, was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada.