Lot Sale Results

Alfred Pellan
Fall 2015 - 1st Session Live auction

Lot # 048

Alfred Pellan
CAS OC PY QMG RCA 1906 - 1988 Canadian

La tour de Babel
mixed media on board
signed and dated 1959 and on verso signed, titled and inscribed "No 361" and "41 = pounds / livres"
56 x 38 in  142.2 x 96.5cm

Provenance:
Private Collection

Literature:
Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, 1979, page 71

It is written in Genesis 11:1-4 that “At first, the people of the whole world had only one language and used the same words...They said to one another...: let’s build a city with a tower that reaches the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the earth.” But, as it is well known, God was not pleased by what he heard them say, as stated in Genesis 11:6: “Soon they will be able to do anything they want! Let us go down and mix up their language so that they will not understand each other.”
Alfred Pellan’s 1959 painting La tour de Babel (The Tower of Babel) is not a direct illustration of this famous Bible text, but it certainly conveys the idea expressed in these famous verses. First, the verticality of the painting and its central motif in black lines clearly suggest the ascension of the tower towards a summit. In the centre, the right angles of the ascending lines give way to lines which look more like cracks in a wall than pure geometric progression. On each side of the “tower” one sees in a cartouche some tools, such as a key, a hammer, pliers, an axe, a pick and a crowbar, evidently to suggest the instruments used by the builders of the tower. In Babel, these names became confused or unintelligible between one worker and the other - somebody would ask for pliers and get an axe instead!
One is reminded of famous paintings by René Magritte in which you see things depicted in a frame, but subtitled with a word that makes you doubt the identity of what you see. The most famous example is probably Ceci n’est pas une pipe. The real title of the painting is La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images, 1928 - 1929), written below an unequivocal representation of a pipe. Of course, Magritte was often reproached for this. He defended himself, saying, “Could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture 'This is a pipe,' I'd have been lying!” But, closer to Pellan’s presentation and intention, I believe, one should think, for instance, of another Magritte painting, La cléf des songes from 1927, where the image of a bag is accompanied with the phrase le ciel; of a penknife, with the word l’oiseau; and of a leaf, with the words la table. Only the image of the sponge is subtitled l’éponge. If such a linguistic system was applied in real life, it is clear that such a tower, or anything else for that matter, could not be built!
In 1959, when Pellan painted La tour de Babel, he had been back in Canada for a few years. He had made an attempt to live in France from 1953 to 1955, remembering the best experiences of his first sojourn of 14 years in France before the war. But Europe after the Second World War was no longer the open and free place he had known during that time. The economic situation was bad, and competitiveness between artists spoiled the possibility of contacts. No common language was developing - therefore it is not surprising that Pellan was attracted to a subject like La tour de Babel. Even in Quebec, the competition between the Automatists and other painters of the avant-garde like him was not producing a harmonious development of modern art, of what used to be called l’art vivant. Could we say then that there is a note of nostalgia in this beautiful Pellan painting?
We thank François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $90,000 ~ $120,000 CAD

Sold For: $118,000.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)


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