Historical & Post-War Canadian Art


Online Auction  8 – 30 MAY, 2021, 2 p.m. (EDT)

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Paul-Émile Borduas

Modulation aux points noirs, 1955

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 400 000 – 600 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 24 x 20 inches 61 x 50,8 cm

This departure for Paris may be the culmination of the adventure.
–Paul-Émile Borduas to Gilles Corbeil, September 3, 1955

It was aboard the Liberté that Paul-Émile Borduas left New York for Paris on September 21, 1955, with his daughter Janine. This ocean crossing from one continent to another—an early embodiment of the “simplifying leap” that would drive his painting until 1956—thus marked the most celebrated and prized cycle of work in Borduas’s exceptional career: the Parisian period.

Modulation aux points noirs (1955) is part of the very first batch that Borduas produced when newly settled in the legendary studio on Rue Rousselet. In total, we have six paintings from this exceedingly rare body of work, paintings that were listed in the packing list for Laing Galleries, Toronto, dated 1956.[1] Borduas refers to these titles as his “latest paintings,” or the “Parisian paintings,” notably in letters addressed to the Lorties and to Jean-René Ostiguy,[2] who had asked him for a painting for an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. In his response to the latter, Borduas situated his recent production within current trends in contemporary painting: “Though these pictures have become increasingly white, increasingly ‘objective,’ they are complex nonetheless, when I see works around me with clear and precise meaning, from the expressionist to the linear ... Mine always seem to strive for an emotional synthesis of a great many elements.”[3] Here, Borduas was reacting to the painting that was drawing his attention at the time in Paris—the work of Jackson Pollock and Georges Mathieu—which, by the same token, tells us about his new production at the time: American in spirit, Parisian in form.

In Modulation aux points noirs, the robust white impastos form cavernous reliefs that amass rolls of pigment at the lateral edges. The squashed white at their centre offers glimpses of colour, streaks of warm greys, more plentiful at the edges of the painting. These creamy swaths are emptied of their pigment one after another and soon coalesce onto the blacks to form Borduas’s emblematic series, which this painting signals in every respect. Here, the strokes of the spatula are solidly anchored in the pictorial area, choreographed as in a moving checkerboard. The perfectly interwoven constructions are punctuated by small splashes of black and carmine, beaded or deposited with the edge of the trowel, suggesting an all-over treatment inherited from the New York period. One notices the increased presence of splotches in this batch, like a leitmotif around the movement; art historian François-Marc Gagnon observes, “All the titles in this first Parisian series suggest movement, whether continuous (modulation, coulée [flow], persistance), alternating (girouette [weather vane], balancement [rocking]), or rhythmical (danse), and thus also, in a sense, temporal attributions.”[4]

This fresh, airy impression, studded here and there within a fortified construction, and then fractured by countless interstices, highlights the essential nature of surface modulation during the Parisian period. This formal momentum “from the expressionist to the linear” also renders Borduas’s apparent state of mind, between the effervescence of novelty and the meditative interiority within the vital energy with which Modulation aux points noirs seems so thoroughly imbued.

(Annie Lafleur)
No de catalogue / Catalogue No.: 2005-1183

[1] François-Marc Gagnon. Paul-Émile Borduas (1905-1960): Biographie critique et analyse de l’œuvre (Montreal: Fides, 1978), 395.
[2] Ibid., 399.
[3] Ibid., 398-399 (our translation).
[4] Ibid., p. 399 (our translation).

Jean Paul Riopelle

Untitled, 1958

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 175 000 – 225 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 19 ¾ x 24 inches 50 x 61 cm

This formidable painting by Jean Paul Riopelle deploys its structured, luminous composition in a single circular glance. There is an irresistible momentum in this composition, a joyful swirl that draws the gaze into a unanimous movement. The strokes of the spatula seem coordinated in a festive dance from which scintillating colours arise amid absolute contrasts. Every streak of pigment participates in the natural harmony of this visionary oil on canvas, dated 1958, a perfect illustration of the turn that Riopelle took in the second half of the 1950s. The regularity of the mosaics from 1953 to 1954 give way, in this painting, to a fierce gesturality, as bold and assertive as ever, in which he strives to maintain the feverish strokes of the palette knife in balance. He massages and sculpts the paint to make room “for ravines and ruptures, without really fracturing the painting,” writes Pierre Schneider. In Untitled, the palette knife—and even its handle—are used to draw hooks and fluid spans in the composition’s almost airborne impastos. The judicious wash of cobalt and ultramarine blues, of alizarin reds and clear purples, the touches of pure green and burnt umber, embrace each thrust of matter in a frantic rhythm. A superb painting whose vision endures well beyond the moments spent contemplating its every detail. A revelation.

(A. Lafleur)

Jean Paul Lemieux

Nu sur fond bleu, 1963

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 325 000 – 425 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 43 x 24 inches 109,2 x 61 cm

A symbol of purity and lost paradise, Jean Paul Lemieux’s Nu sur fond bleu (1963) impresses, with its quiet majesty, as one of the most beautiful pieces in this body of work. Here, the slender figure of a nubile young woman is rendered with sensitivity and modesty, as in a contemplative dream. Bathed in a soft light, the figure walks solemnly against an open sky that seems to vastly heighten her grandeur and gracefulness. The few tiny clouds around her sarong reinforce her presence, which literally transcends the pictorial area. Indeed, the truncated composition is characteristic of Lemieux, who often uses a cinematic shot to frame his subjects, so that they seem both studied and captured in action. Every detail of this angular composition is counterbalanced by the painter’s delicate touch, which breathes strength and beauty into his female subject.

Sometimes appearing at a country meal, sometimes alone in the middle of a field, Lemieux’s nude is part of a poetic narrative. In this painting, an aura of mystery surrounds the figure, who wears a pointed hat and a pareo draped around her waist—a garment that recalls the marginal attire of his harlequin figures (Le petit arlequin, 1959; Les mi-carêmes, 1962; Jeune clown, 1970). The young woman’s profile with slightly bent arm is also reminiscent of the framing and posture of such celebrated paintings as Jeune fille dans le vent (1964) and La mort par un clair matin (1963), acquired by the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, as well as Printemps (1968), included in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Finally, this work perfectly embodies the spirit of Vent de mer, a painting dating from 1963 in which vacationers are taking in the sun on the beach. In summer, the Lemieux family would occupy a cottage in L’Isle-aux Coudres, where the painter would wholly devote himself to his art.

With Nu sur fond bleu, Lemieux adds an essential piece to his most prized repertoire and brilliantly reaffirms his stature on the international scene.

(A. Lafleur)

Jean-Philippe Dallaire

Enfant à la sucette, 1958

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 110 000 – 130 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 34 x 26 inches 86,4 x 66 cm

Throughout his work, Jean Dallaire gave pride of place to the female figure. Often costumed and coquettish, with an umbrella or donning a hat, sometimes dishevelled and rebellious, this presence resurfaced in 1957 in paintings bearing women’s names, such as Amanda, Audrey, Adèle, and Odile, the last being the most abstract of the series. A metamorphosis takes place from one painting to another and “testifies to a prodigious rigour and a diversity [in] the production emanating from his studio in 1957,” according to Michèle Grandbois. This creative momentum continued the following year with Enfant à la sucette, when Dallaire was newly settled in Paris, as the dating of the watercolour sketch for the painting attests. Here one finds the key elements of his aesthetic research, which borrows from Surrealism, Cubism, and Outsider Art, trends to which he “added abstract intentions that take his singular exploration of form and colour into account,” writes Grandbois.

Enfant à la sucette portrays a rosy-complexioned blond child with blue spots on her chin and cheek from the giant lollipop that she is clasping with both hands. Here, the colours of this object, which recurs in Dallaire’s work, are those of the French flag. The child’s head is slightly inclined to the side and her gaze, as if drawn by a moving form, stares at a point off-canvas. The lines of force that delimit each coloured span reveal a rustic, summery, and festive scenery. Dressed in a little blue, orange, and apple-green dress, the child is sitting on a park bench, surrounded by greenery and a body of water that fill the entire pictorial area. The orange mass behind her head recalls a setting sun. An invitation to reverie. The skilful execution of this oil is evinced in the effects of transparency, the play of textures, and the “decorative line”—elements that mark the work of an artist at the top of his form.

From 1946 to 1952, Dallaire taught painting and drawing at the École des beaux-arts de Québec; he then worked as an illustrator at the National Film Board of Canada until 1957. In 1958, he returned to France and settled in Vence, where he painted continuously until his death in 1965. A first retrospective of his work was presented in 1968 at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, and at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. In 1999, the latter would present Dallaire, a large-scale retrospective on his work, accompanied by an extensive catalogue. Afterward, in 2005 and 2008, the City of Gatineau organized the travelling exhibition Dallaire illustrateur: Extraits des séries historiques. And finally, in 2016, Hommage à Dallaire: Que la fête commence! was presented at the Galerie Montcalm at Gatineau’s Musée du Citoyen, to mark the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth.

(A. Lafleur)

Jean Albert McEwen

Midi, temps jaune, 1960

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 80 000 – 100 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 50 x 78 inches 127 x 198 cm

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.

(Annie Lafleur)

Jacques Hurtubise

Danielle, 1966

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 65 000 – 85 000
  • Medium: Acrylic on canvas
  • Dimensions: 66 x 96 inches 167,4 x 243,8 cm

After 1965, many of Hurtubise’s paintings were titled with female names, adding a sibylline touch to his personal mythology. Danielle (1966) is a landmark work from his most accomplished repertoire of that period. The motif is a diamond-shaped pattern that is multiplied across the entire pictorial surface in a binary combination of orange and light blue, generating an intensely vibrating optical effect. Every line, every dividing plane is erased, creating an uninterrupted structure that in itself is quite similar to Doris (1966, Musée national des beaux-arts collection) and Ephramille[1] (1966, 9th São Paolo Biennale in Brazil). Hurtubise reinterprets Abstract Expressionist gesture and Tachism practice in a hard-edge style that conditions and breaks down the line and the plane, like a series of stills. In Danielle, the motifs are repeated in a pattern that is at once regular and asymmetrical, creating a dynamic, illusionistic space, a complete and striking presence.

In 1967, Jacques Hurtubise, along with Jack Bush, represented Canada at the 9th São Paulo Biennale in Brazil. Jean-René Ostiguy, then curator of Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada, who curated the 9th São Paulo Biennale in Brazil, could not speak highly enough of Hurtubise in his catalogue essay: “Hurtubise’s creative genius now asserts itself through a perfectly controlled technique. The designs of his stencils are organic, mineral, plant life or simply geometric ... When optical vibration comes together with perfect balance between the background and the design, all these images—spots, spark discharges, mirage algae, crosses and rosettes, flowers, leaves and diamonds—fade away before the omnipresence of a respiration, a coloured movement, which is perhaps simply the lyrical texture of the colour.”

(A. Lafleur)

[1] Ephramille was in BYDealers’s post-war and contemporary art auction, May 29, 2019 (lot 28).

Claude Tousignant

Double 30 (Azo-cobalt), 1975

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 90 000 – 120 000
  • Medium: Acrylic on canvas (two elements)
  • Dimensions: 30 (diameter / each) inches 76,2 (diamètre / chacun) cm

With Double 30 (Azo-cobalt), dated 1975, Claude Tousignant created one of the classics from his repertoire: a circular diptych. Indeed, this emblematic work belongs to a series of tondos and shaped canvases that have earned Tousignant international acclaim. The Gongs, Transformateurs chromatiques, and Accélérateurs chromatiques series thus opened the way for dual elements, which made their appearance in 1970 and ended in 1980. That year, a solo exhibition at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal was entirely devoted to his diptychs.

A vibrant serial structure dominates the targets of concentric bands in saturated or fluorescent colours, inviting the viewer into an optical experience as refreshing now as it was when it was produced 50 years ago. By reducing the number of bands, and widening them, Tousignant sought first to intensify the presence of the chromatic fields. Due to the reversability of the optimally contrasting colours, and to their hierarchical position within the target, a firm kinship is created between the two elements, rendering them inseparable.

Double 30 (Azo-cobalt) comprises four concentric circles that appear to be covered by “a luminous scrim that is the product of optical vibration alone,” notes James D. Campbell. Regarding the sought effect, Tousignant wanted “the confrontation of these pairs of colours—which by their juxtaposition produced, so to speak, a third colour—, should establish a series of relationships with these third colours.” Campbell insists, in fact, on the space-colour relationship in Tousignant’s work as the expression of a “thick dimensionality and distended presence that can be genuinely eloquent and which can pull the viewer into a powerful gravitational orbit from which he or she only reluctantly escapes.”

(A. Lafleur)

Marcel Christian Barbeau

Sauvage-furie ou Automne-délire, 1947

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 35 000 – 45 000
  • Medium: Oil on panel
  • Dimensions: 15 x 17 ½ inches 38,1 x 44,5 cm

Marcel Barbeau’s all-over compositions are among his most accomplished and avant-garde. The very first pieces appeared in the second half of the 1940s; standing out among them was the flamboyant Sauvage-furie ou Automne-délire (Savage-Fury or Autumn Delirium), dated 1947. Art historian Roald Nasgaard wrote about this work, “In this little painting, Barbeau not only held his usual emotionality in check but laid down his strokes of the spatula in a regular, repetitive, quasi-mechanical ordering. For the year 1947 such work is quite without precedent, not only for the degree to which it sacrifices all but the vestiges of automatic spontaneity but also because of its indifference to composition vis-à-vis the framing rectangle.” Here, Marcel Barbeau has created a true plastic manifesto, a precursor to the pictorial explorations that would soon push the visual arts in Quebec and Canada irreversibly toward modernity.

Indeed, this masterpiece definitively marks the genesis of the Automatistes, whose works were in many ways indebted to it. It is also a rare painting from 1947, which escaped the mass destruction of his oeuvre the following year. Enlivened by superb shimmering and transparency where the paint is scraped down to the canvas, this piece anticipates Paul Émile Borduas’s works in oil of the mid-1950s and Marcelle Ferron’s works of the late 1950s, if only for its quality of light, which shapes and sweeps the surface in a bold, mature, implacable gesture.

With Sauvage-furie ou Automne-délire, Barbeau’s palette brightens: blacks give way to radiant whites, which illuminate the entire surface. This pure contrast, enhanced with blue, red, and green pigments, enables him to push his work to the limits of all-over painting and tachism, up to then rarely explored. A tensile network of palette-knife strokes sweeps into the fray in a lateral thrust, while dabs of bright colour joyfully punctuate this embattled checkerboard. The oblique orientation of the markings lends great density to the dazzling and eminently expressive baroque surface.

Here is an essential, historic work for the audacious collector—assured and singular, like Barbeau himself.

(A. Lafleur)

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