LOT 017

1933 - 2004

Sans titre
Duco paint on board on wood
on verso signed and dated 1955
24 x 30 in, 61 x 76.2 cm

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD

Sold for: $73,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Acquired directly from the Artist by the present Private Collection, Montreal

Sandra Grant Marchand, Roald Nasgaard and Guido Molinari, Guido Molinari: une rétrospective, 1995, listed page 70

Wynick/Tuck Gallery, Toronto, Guido Molinari: Important Works from the Plasticien Period, June 2 - July 21, 1990
Musée d'art contemporain de Montreal, Guido Molinari: une rétrospective, May 19 - September 17, 1995, traveling to the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, Guelph; MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina; Art Gallery of Windsor; and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, catalogue #16

In the midst of radical change and growth in 1955 and 1956, 22-year-old Guido Molinari painted Sans titre and changed Canadian art history in two ways. His breakthroughs set him on the path towards the eradication of pictorial volume that would characterize his oeuvre. Further, as told to the consignor of this work, Sans titre had an impact on Molinari’s fellow painter Paul-Émile Borduas, who said Sans titre influenced his own late black and white works.

Before Sans titre, Molinari had pointed out the limitations of his elders in the Automatists and the Plasticiens when he announced himself a theoretician of molinarisme. This happened only a decade after he began to visit Montreal’s Dominion Gallery and started painting at age 13. He took evening courses at the École des beaux-arts (Montreal) while in high school, enrolled in the School of Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (dropping out barely a year later), and made Surrealist-inspired automatic paintings at 18. Still in his early 20s, he embarked on a journey to transcend the suggestion of three-dimensional space in painting by extending Piet Mondrian’s effort to destroy volume and plane.

In 1954 and 1955, Molinari made small, colourful tachiste paintings that undermined volume and confounded the plane through their careful placement of pure colour. In January 1955, he made his first trip to New York, where he saw paintings by Wassily Kandinsky at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and by Mondrian at the Museum of Modern Art. A letter from the artist to the consignor tells us that Molinari painted Sans titre in November 1955 - exactly when he was experimenting with the automobile lacquer Duco, and when his personal hybrid of painting and drawing crystallized.

Duco is the proprietary name of an automobile lacquer that was popular among artists in the 1940s and 1950s for its economy, fluidity and quick drying time. Molinari exploited its smooth application and flat and opaque finish, which allowed studies to be made with the rapidity of ink and to have the intensity of paint. In 1955 and 1956, Molinari made a prodigious number of studies with black Duco on white paper as well as paintings with black and white Duco, such as Sans titre. Painted on canvas or hardboard, Duco's smooth finish facilitated Molinari’s rejection of the impastoed surfaces of the Automatists and showed his new visual austerity. Reduced to black and white, these paintings could have been perceived in terms of drawing, and their volumes read in terms of foreground and background as if rendered in another medium. Molinari's breakthroughs in this medium enabled him to advance the understanding of the pictorial equilibrium that he investigated throughout his career.

In Sans titre, movement implied by the horizontal and vertical bars at right and bottom is stilled, and the picture’s mass unified by the black volume in the top-left quadrant. White painted over still wet black created pearly greys that Molinari heightened with strokes of white. The parity of black and white, and the negligible impasto in Molinari’s painting had a different purpose than Borduas’s Figures schématiques of 1956 (lot 18 in this sale) or Borduas’s late black and white works of 1959, such as Composition no 41 ou Cinq barres noires (Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, CR #2005-1382), in which the materiality of paint is central. In his critical biography of Borduas, François Marc-Gagnon corroborates Molinari’s comment to the consignor when he observes that the latter painting could have been done under the influence of Molinari.

Sans titre has had only one owner apart from the artist. The painting was retained by Molinari until the last decade of his life, and the consignor vowed to look after Sans titre before Molinari would release it. As an emancipating step in Molinari’s aim to reinvent painting for himself, Sans titre remains as liberating now as it was then.

We thank Gregory Humeniuk, art historian, writer and curator, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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