Historical & Post-War Canadian Art


Online Auction  2 – 22 November, 2020, 2 p.m. (EST)

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Guido Molinari

Mutation tri-orange, 1967

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 200 000 - 250 000
  • Medium: Acrylic on canvas
  • Dimensions: 77 x 49 inches 195,6 x 124,5 cm

Guido Molinari’s Mutation tri-orange has the effect of an apparition in the room. The unpredictable colour alternations engage the spectator’s whole attention, caught here in a vision of a chromatic chorale.

The 1960s culminated in Molinari’s work with the formal resolution of the pictorial space, in which he deployed chromatic modulations generated by a single rhythmical sequence. Mutation tri-orange (1967) fully exemplifies this development; its vertical bands of equal width allow the colours to “expand inwardly to invade the spectator’s space,” according to Roald Nasgaard. Mutation and mobility are the watchwords of the painting of this period, which is both intensely sensory and purely objective. The 16 narrow bands accelerate the painting’s rhythm with particularly captivating chromatic vibrations. The seriality triggers a continuous dynamism between the stripes of pure colour, each repeated three times, with the exception of the red, which goes through four iterations. Yet the red bands establish a discrepancy in the fixed sequence of orange, violet, blue, and green, which creates an optical disturbance, or exception, at the far right of the support. Moreover, this subtle deflection triggers a perceptual reaction of stops and loops, as if the eye were striving to solve a mathematical equation or the mystery behind a magic trick. With this chromatic permutation so elegantly deployed, the eye is guided back over the painting, to the very beginning of the “score.”

In addition to his many shows at the East Hampton Gallery, at which Mutation tri-orange was presented during the 1960s, Molinari took part in the legendary 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York. Only shortly thereafter, he represented Canada at the thirty-fourth Venice Biennale in 1968, where he won the David E. Bright Foundation Prize. In 1969, he was appointed a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and in 1971, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1973, he received the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award; three years later, the National Gallery of Canada gave him his first retrospective. Molinari was the youngest recipient of the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas, in 1980. The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal honoured him with a final retrospective in 1995. Molinari held two teaching positions during his career: at the School of Art and Design, briefly (1964-65), and at Concordia University (1970-97). Molinari—painter, drawer, printmaker, sculptor, art theorist, and poet—died in 2004, in his hometown.

(Annie Lafleur)

Jean Paul Riopelle

Et vert, 1966

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 300 000 - 400 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 57.5 x 38 inches 146 x 97 cm

Clearings and breaches opened up where the light shines through, it swirls around pillars of rock, breaks on the cliffs or walls, and floods a clear and vibrant world by a thousand channels. – Jacques Dupin, 1966

The year 1966 was a high point in Jean Paul Riopelle’s career. In Paris, the famed art dealer Aimé Maeght took the artist under his wing, adding to the prestige of a line-up that included the greatest names, from Chagall to Giacometti, through Kandinsky, Matisse, and many others. Maeght also brought him into his foundation and to his engraving workshop, the ARTE printing house, where Riopelle flourished as he discovered new techniques. Indeed, Riopelle’s first exhibition at Galerie Maeght triggered an exceptional body of work that included paintings, sculptures, and original works on paper. The imagery deployed in each piece is imbued with an intimate vision of the forest, be it Boreal or Provençal, and nature is at the forefront in the titles: The Mountain, The Pond, Underbrush, Terroir (“country tradition” or “of the land”), Orchard, Bird, Black Sun. Riopelle painted the majestic Et vert in an astounding burst of creativity, following it up immediately with Et rouge—two works that echo one another, two seasons born of the same breath.

With Et vert, Riopelle plunged back into reveries of nature, handling the spatula like a scythe in the field. Here we duck under vaulting foliage topped by dazzling breakthroughs in the sky that leave us speechless. This excursion opens onto an “infused clearing” (clairière infuse), to take Pierre Scheinder’s beautiful expression. The rich palette is dominated by sparkling greens and velvety blacks. Rhythmically punctuated by agile and profuse touches, this work captures all the intensity of a light-filled radiance, like the sudden awakening of nature. Here again, the mosaic touches very typical of the 1950s—and extending into the next decade—gradually unravel to give way to a more supple, smoother paint texture. Finally, a built-up structure marks a whole stretch of the composition, which takes full advantage of this balance. Infused with a new energy, this piece is the beginning of a prolific period for Riopelle, whose production soared dramatically. Et vert marks his course with a white stone and synthesizes his brilliant excesses in an unforgettably sublime painting.

(Annie Lafleur)

Marcelle Ferron

Hommage à Virginia Woolf, 1962

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 180 000 - 220 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 83 x 30 inches 210,8 x 76,2 cm

Hommage à Virginia Woolf (1962) belongs to a period during which Marcelle Ferron evinced great confidence in her spatial approach and relentless gesturality, which she would constantly reinvent with character, mastery, and sensitivity. At the turn of the 1960s, Ferron gave unparalleled momentum and power to the broad spatula strokes with which she juxtaposed masses loaded with textured pigment and created counterpoint effects among the colours, some dark, some luminous, that dominate this painting with burnt shadows, shimmering greens, and purple blues. Here we also find thick impastos that collide, attracting and repelling each other almost organically. White gaps skilfully slip into the “dense structures that, previously, would have essentially hidden the background, [but that now] give way to a complex set of planes that fill the space,” observes Réal Lussier, curator of Ferron’s retrospective at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in 2000.

Hommage à Virginia Woolf is one of the oils that Ferron produced during her stay in Paris from 1953 to 1965, a fertile and pivotal period during which she created some of her most successful works. Settled in her Clamart studio, Ferron took part in numerous solo and group exhibitions, testifying to the brilliance of this decade. From 1962 to 1964, she studied with Polish architect and sculptor Piotr Kowalski, perfecting a creative approach that would lead to an integration of art into architecture and, in particular, to her work with stained glass. This development is presaged in Hommage à Virginia Woolf, a painting of imposing size (over two metres high), dominated by the movement of striking angles, dense shadows, and bright lights, as if filtered through an immense glass. This spectacular work pays tribute to the great English author Virginia Woolf, whose modernist work is entirely comparable to Ferron’s own.

(Annie Lafleur)

Jean Paul Riopelle

Untitled, circa 1962

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 250 000 - 350 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 31.5 x 39.25 inches 80 x 100 cm

In our friend Riopelle’s voice there are beautiful folds of the wind that are made and unmade. – André Breton

We leap wholeheartedly into this painting of Riopelle’s, shaped with a palette knife with vigour and vitality and guided at once by chromatic volumes and thick impasto. A wildness prevails, a call upon nature in turmoil. At the dawn of the 1960s, Riopelle’s work was replete with his characteristic bursts of strokes freely deployed across the canvas, along with slippages and avalanches of material deflected from their course and opening onto reservoirs of pure colour, ranging, here, from red to blue and including scattered highlights of Indian yellow, orangey hues, then emerald green. The extreme texture of the trowelled impasto, saturated with pigment, is hollowed and slashed or erected into dizzying stacks; looming on the horizon are Riopellian signs and symbols, swirled at times by the action of the tool’s blade or handle. A fall palette makes a show in this organic, rebellious, and trenchant composition.

Author and art critic Yves Michaud aptly expresses this singular approach to nature in the new formal register that Riopelle was exploring in this period and that is ubiquitous in this work: “When speaking of Riopelle, there is often mention of the North American forest that is so present in most of his abstract landscapes. Riopelle was also inspired by bodies of deep water, the green and black of the water itself laced with the ochre at the bottom, the reflections of foliage, and the changes in the sky.” The 1960s was thus a decade rich in formal and aesthetic experimentations. Eschewing ready-made formulas—and, by the same token, the prevailing artistic trends—Riopelle was continuously reinventing himself through a multitude of techniques: watercolour, pastel, oil, engraving, collage, sculpture. Testifying to a maturity and a profound versatility, this multidisciplinary approach nourished each body of work, piece by piece, leaving manifest traces of his prior accomplishments and hints of developments to come, as each work anticipated the next, at an uninterrupted pace.

(Annie Lafleur)

Jean Albert McEwen

Laque d’un pays rouge, 1972

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 80 000 - 100 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 60 x 60 inches 152,4 x 152,4 cm

Laque d’un pays rouge embodies all the prized characteristics of Jean McEwen’s work: the iridescences obtained from his masterful treatment of glazed pigment paste, the superbly incandescent colouration in layered, sensual chiaroscuro, and the painting’s ideal dimensions, intimate yet imposing.

In the early 1970s, after a short period devoted exclusively to acrylic, McEwen reincorporated the use of glaze and oil. In Laque d’un pays rouge (1972), the pictorial space is sealed on all four sides by a white frame, the effect of which is to absorb the drippings along the lower edge. This trend had been established in the series Miroir sans image (1971) and Laque d’un pays vaste (1972), of which this work is a part. The bright frame that surrounds the canvas reinforces the tension between the defined perimeter and the unbounded chasm in which the matter is engulfed. Regarding this formal approach, art historian Constance Naubert-Riser points out that “the dark, sumptuous quality of the deep reds, greens and browns, together with the use of varnish, imbues the colour of this series with a hitherto unattained depth.”

Mindful of doing justice to the poetry of his approach—and to his literary activity in tandem with his painting—McEwen titled his canvases and series with as much care as he took in producing them. Hints as to the material, texture, or pigment are thus spontaneously or playfully manifest through metaphor, often underscored by a phonetic kinship between the chosen terms, as in the homonyms laque (lacquer) and lac (lake)—at once a reddish-brown resin, a shimmering glaze, and a sheet of water surrounded by land. McEwen’s painted work unfolds concurrently in a long poem that lends a unique and inimitable character to each piece.

Jean McEwen is considered one of the most influential Canadian artists of his generation. His works have been presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and New York. In 1973, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal presented a retrospective of his work, followed in 1987, by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. McEwen received many awards and distinctions during his career, most notably the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award from the Canada Council for the Arts, in 1977, and the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas, in 1998, one year before his death in Montreal.

(Annie Lafleur)

Jean-Paul Armand Mousseau

Bleu-éclats, 1955

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 70 000 - 90 000
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 47.5 x 29.75 inches 120,7 x 75,6 cm

A gorgeous maze infused with shadow and light, Bleu-éclats (1955) is among Jean-Paul Mousseau’s most beautiful productions of the mid-1950s. An invitation to meditation and calm.

The painting Bleu-éclats figures in a pictorial production focused on notions of space, light, and colour that Mousseau sustained, in all disciplines, throughout his long art career. Thus, this oil on canvas has the same architectural and chromatic characteristics as some of the transparent fibreglass and colour-resin panels of the same period. According to Pierre Landry, who curated the Mousseau retrospective at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, “This back and forth between pure formal research and its application in a broader field testifies to an openness and independence from conventions that echo the spirit of the Automatist group,” of which Mousseau was the youngest member. The search for light thus becomes a leitmotif in his pictorial practice, as demonstrated in this painting.

Here, the rays of blue, white, and orange light seem to float in a pictorial space completely engulfed in darkness. The diffused light traverses the space by following a well-defined path, as in a stained-glass window. The planes of colour truncated at the four edges of the frame suggest an extension beyond the painting, as if radiating into the spectator’s own space. While the composition in Bleu-éclats is quite structured, it is nonetheless tactile. The blurred treatment of the coloured planes contrasts with the strictly geometric approach manifest in the contemporaneous work of members of the Plasticiens movement. The softened edges are also striking in a series of paintings produced at the same time by his friend and follower Fernand Leduc, who ultimately turned toward a hard-edge aesthetic.

The year 1955 was a high point for Mousseau, who participated in the exhibition Espace 55 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, alongside Ulysse Comptois, Paterson Ewen, Jean McEwen, and Guido Molinari, among others. That fall, Mousseau’s La Marseillaise (1954) won first prize for painting at the Winnipeg Show, presented by the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The following year, Bleu-éclats was exhibited at L’Actuelle, and then at the Hélène-de-Champlain restaurant, in Montreal, as part of the exhibition Panorama of Montreal Painting.

(Annie Lafleur)

Marc-Aurèle Fortin

Bagotville, 1948

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 300,000 - 400,000
  • Medium: Oil on board
  • Dimensions: 36 x 48 inches 91,5 x 122 cm

Bagotville is a convincing example of the virtuosity of Marc-Aurèle Fortin, unrivalled colourist and passionate cyclist, known for his breathtaking views and exhilarating perspectives of Quebec landscapes. On that day, in the small Saguenay town, a powerful summer sun lit up the roofs and made the bay sparkle in a blanket of light. The distant mountainside against the cloud-dappled sky seems to echo the abundant vegetation and tall trees surrounding the church and houses, creating a choral harmony among the elements of the painting. Each house is distinguished by its angle, colour, porch, and number of shutters and windows. Two full clotheslines billow in the wind between houses that seem to fold into one another. Rising above the many chimneys is a majestic church steeple crowned with a cross, echoing another cross on the summit of the verdant mountain behind it. In the upper right-hand corner of the painting, a boat emits wisps of smoke that mingle with the clouds, inviting the contemplative gaze to lose itself in the skies above. The painter’s viewpoint offers a spectacular view of the town, embracing the river and steep cliffs of the Saguenay fjord, emblematic features of this picturesque region where Fortin returned summer after summer until the mid-1950s, when illness forced him to take a long hiatus.

Fortin has bequeathed the public an intimate yet grandiose vision of this region, which he long explored by bicycle, painting in the open air or in his studio on an array of available supports. His immense trees, like cathedrals bathed in radiant green, red, or golden light, and his lyrical views of the Charlevoix, Saguenay, Gaspé, and Montreal regions always amazed his peers. It is therefore unsurprising that much has been written about Fortin’s prolific body of work that portrays his beloved Quebec landscapes. The painter’s mystique and reclusive lifestyle have also inspired many authors, especially as he remained on the fringe of modernist tendencies, preferring to explore his own personal style and distinctive touch. A true master, Fortin forged a unique and enviable position for himself among the greats of post-war landscape painting.

(Annie Lafleur)

Alexander Young Jackson

Above Lake Superior, circa 1926

  • Estimated Price: $CAD 40 000 - 50 000
  • Medium: Oil on panel
  • Dimensions: 8.5 x 10.5 inches 21,6 x 26,7 cm

In the 1920s, A.Y. Jackson made a visit almost every autumn to the north shore of Lake Superior in the company of Lawren Harris, sometimes with Franklin Carmichael and sometimes, late in the decade, with A.J. Casson as well. He had little difficulty discovering new motifs there. The lake and the surrounding countryside offered a host of new subjects that he wished to paint.

Jackson wrote in his autobiography, A Painter’s Country, about the intriguing landscape, and his words reveal his affection and love for its beauty: “I know of no more impressive scenery in Canada for the landscape painter. There is a sublime order to it, the long curves of the beaches, the sweeping ranges of hills, and headlands that push out into the lake. Inland there are intimate little lakes, stretches of muskeg, outcrops of rock; there is little soil for agriculture. In the autumn the whole country glows with colour; the huckleberry and the pincherry turn crimson, the mountain ash is loaded with red berries, the poplar and the birch turn yellow and the tamarac greenish gold.” [1]

In this sketch, the bare rocks, punctuated by growth of varying kinds, form a base for the brilliant display of fall colour in vivid shades of orange, yellows, and gold, permitting a view of the water shimmering in the distance and the bluish hills and sky beyond. In Above Lake Superior, Jackson discovered practically the whole spectrum of colour through his work, and, as he must have realized, it was a uniquely strong effect for him.

Jackson probably planned the sketch, which he painted with tremendous flair, as a study for a larger work. That he recognized its outstanding quality can be seen from his careful labelling in pen on the back of the sketch, “Autumn, Lake Superior.”

The strength of this painting lies not only in the harmonious juxtaposition of the various fields and touches of colour but in the growing power of Jackson’s style. He achieved a decorative effect with flowing brushwork and bold impasto. The free and lively manner of painting mirrors his joy in viewing the scenic site and distinguishes his work from the “bare and stark” effects that Harris was creating on his trips to the north shore. The unity of subject and style demonstrates Jackson’s complete mastery of spontaneously studying from nature.

Only a handful of Jackson’s few sketches approach the happy mixture found here. He must have valued it so highly that he did not surrender it lightly; although he put a price on the back, he may have thought better of selling it and saved it for himself. Only much later did it come on the market. Above Lake Superior must be counted among Jackson’s most exceptional and important works.

(Joan Murray)

[1] A. Y. Jackson. A Painter’s Country: the Autobiography of A. Y. Jackson, Toronto, Clarke, Irwin and Company Limited, 1967.

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