In 1948, Léon Bellefleur signed the Prisme d’yeux manifesto, adding his voice to a group of Quebec artists led by painter Alfred Pellan. Published several months before Refus global, the manifesto makes the case for an independent art open to highly diverse aesthetics, with freedom of expression taking precedence over radical doctrines. Bellefleur’s work was shown two years later in a joint exhibition with painter Fritz Brandtner at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, in which around 30 paintings revealed “the inspiration of a personalized surrealist tendency that translates the turbulent depths of dreams and the nocturnal imagination into spontaneous pulsating forms.” Freed from his work as a teacher in 1954, Bellefleur moved to France to dedicate himself fully to his art. Formal recognition came in 1968, when the National Gallery of Canada organized a retrospective that subsequently toured three museums. In 1977, Léon Bellefleur was the first recipient of the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas.
In the 1980s, several exhibitions, publications, and collaborations highlighted Bellefleur’s importance as an artist who, at age 75, was still deeply engaged in his practice. Until the spring of 1987, Bellefleur divided his time between his studios in Outremont and in Saint-Antoine, Quebec. In October 1986, he had a major exhibition—his 35th solo show—of almost 60 works at Moore Gallery, in Hamilton. As Guy Robert notes, Bellefleur’s oil paintings from this period “maintained the same stylistic character as that of the past 30 years: colours laid out swiftly with a palette knife, refined rhythms and nuances, tweaks and improvisations with splashes or droplets, and mysterious little signs drawn with the tip of a tool.” Fleurs fragiles (1986)—a floral bouquet executed with a powerful, confident hand and a perfect mastery of composition—is the quintessence of a highly mature aesthetic expression. This work also heralds Bellefleur’s largest and best-known series, Des rêves et du hasard (1988), in both its composition, which gives “the impression of a cosmogonical scene lit from within” (Gilles Hénault), and its distinctive palette and artistry, topped off by a delicate splatter.