AUTO CAS QMG RCA
1905 - 1960
Mes pauvres petits soldats
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1949 and on verso titled and dated on the gallery labels
18 7/8 x 22 3/8 in, 47.9 x 56.8 cm
Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000 CAD
Sold for: $205,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Gérard Lortie, April, 1954
Private Collection, Edmonton
Terry Fenton and Karen Wilkin, Modern Painting in Canada, 1978, reproduced page 62
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 67th Annual Spring Exhibition, March 14 - April 9, 1950, catalogue #102
Art Gallery of Toronto, Borduas and De Tonnancour: Paintings and Drawings, April 20 - June 3, 1951
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Borduas et les Automatistes, January 26 - February 13, 1952
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Art of Quebec, August 18 - September 7, 1952
Richardson Brothers Art Gallery, Winnipeg, 1953
Edmonton Art Gallery, Modern Painting in Canada, July 7 - August 30, 1978, catalogue #10
The provenance of this painting is worth noting. Gérard Lortie, an industrialist who made his fortune in the leather trade, met Paul-Émile Borduas thanks to historian and art critic Maurice Gagnon - then a teacher at l’École du meuble, like Borduas - who was also working as an agent for Dr. Max Stern of Dominion Gallery. Gagnon succeeded in convincing several businessmen (in addition to Lortie, Maurice Corbeil and Gérard Beaulieu) of the benefit, even if only in terms of investment, of collecting works of contemporary art. In the case of Lortie, it went further than that. He became a friend of Borduas and, working as his agent, helped sell his paintings in Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg. Lortie was married to Gisèle Morin, daughter of the famous notary Victor Morin. This fact is less trivial than one would think. Accustomed to notarized documents and archives, Gisèle Lortie kept strict accounts of transactions made for Borduas by her husband, and carefully preserved their correspondence. This was a bonus for art historians, since the Lortie documentation was bequeathed to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal!
Thanks to this documentation, we know that on April 21, 1954, Borduas wrote a long letter from New York to Gérard Lortie suggesting that he acquire for a lump sum 13 of his oldest paintings, which were then scattered throughout Canadian art galleries. At the time, our painting was in Winnipeg, in the Richardson Brothers Art Gallery on Portage Avenue. Lortie accepted Borduas’s offer and became the collector of Mes pauvres petits soldats.
Mes pauvres petits soldats was painted in 1949, a year after the publication of the Refus global manifesto and after Borduas’s dismissal from l’École du meuble. Henceforth, he had to make a living from his painting. He was not sure his “poor little soldiers” would suffice to deal with the situation now facing him.
In any event, it is remarkable that in its formal structure Borduas’s painting does not present itself like a number of objects standing out from a background receding into infinity, as was the case in his earlier Automatist works such as Carquois fleuris and , Parachutes végétaux, but rather like fragments of objects floating in an undefined space. It is a direction that Borduas’s painting increasingly adopted thereafter and which allowed him to better understand American Abstract Expressionist painting when he moved to New York in 1953. The American painters—one thinks of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and many others—tended to see a typically European (and thus “outdated,” according to Clement Greenberg) characteristic in maintaining the notion of object. In the new approach, painting could free itself from the obligation of form and seek in all directions a new expansion and density, from Colour Field to dripping.
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.
This work is included in François-Marc Gagnon’s online catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work at http://www.borduas.concordia.ca, #2005-0322.
Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000 CAD
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