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LOT 032

Claude Tousignant
AANFM LP QMG RCA
1932 -
Canadian

Évanescence chromatique
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated 1967 and inscribed "Encadrer entre deux plexiglass ?"
32 x 32 in 81.3 x 81.3 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

PROVENANCE
Collection of the Artist, Montreal
Private Collection
A.K. Prakash & Associates, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto

EXHIBITED
Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, Collectors' Treasures, October 19 - November 2, 2019, catalogue #54


The brilliance and liveliness of Claude Tousignant’s 1967 painting Évanescence chromatique rivals any of the major paintings by him to have appeared so far at auction. One of two experimental canvases, the work was painted in Montreal when Tousignant and his fellow Post-Plasticiens, Charles Gagnon, Yves Gaucher and Guido Molinari, led that city as the locus of advanced painting in Canada. Contemporary with his canonical Accélérateur chromatique paintings, which are represented in public and private collections across the country, Évanescence chromatique is also painted with acrylic on canvas in the tondo format, and composed of regular bands of painstakingly calibrated colours.

Tousignant was born in Montreal in 1932, a full generation younger than Paul-Émile Borduas, the pioneering Quebec abstractionist who led the Automatist group of abstract painters, and about a decade younger than most of the other Automatists. When Tousignant came of age in the mid-1950s, Borduas and the Automatists had made their breakthroughs. In Toronto, Painters Eleven had debuted at Roberts Gallery, and earlier abstractions by Bertram Brooker, Lawren S. Harris and Marion Scott had been seen. Following the training Tousignant received from Arthur Lismer, Scott and, most importantly, Gordon Webber at the School of Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, he saw abstraction as the only legitimate mode of painting. It was the terra firma from which he set out; his terra incognita was painting beyond the three-dimensional space that had been central to Western painting since the Renaissance.

In 1955 and 1956, Tousignant worked through the artistic issues raised by the Automatists and their successors, the Plasticiens. He then began pursuing his own investigations, obliterating traditional pictorial space in radically refined compositions of one, two or three colours. Tousignant’s circular paintings of the next decade activated vision through their dynamic arrangement of colours and meticulous form.

Évanescence chromatique, 32 inches in diameter, is composed of 15 concentric bands, each one inch wide, with a two-inch-diameter circle in the centre. Like the other painting bearing the same title, it is a beautiful, intellectually resolved and technically accomplished conceptual trial that illuminates another telling facet of the artist’s vision.

Unlike Tousignant’s Gong and Accélérateur chromatique paintings, none of the colours in Évanescence chromatique repeat. Instead of the subtly coordinated colours that resonate like chords in the Gong paintings or like the precisely allocated notes of atonal music in the Accélérateur chromatique works, each of the 15 colours in Évanescence chromatique chimes like a note in a celestial scale. From the outside band to the centre, the colours proceed in spectral order – blue, magenta and purple – then return to the other end of the spectrum with red, orange and yellow. Although the image may appear to pulse or glow like an orb, and the close chromatic relationships between adjacent bands sometimes trick the brain into perceiving light or shadow where none exists, any suggestion of illusion is beside the point. In the other Évanescence chromatique work, given by Tousignant as a gift to a fellow artist, the colour scheme is reversed.

The composition and the shape of the canvas are integral to one another. When Frank Stella executed his Black Paintings between 1958 and 1960, and his first shaped paintings in 1960, it was a radical choice to make paintings with compositions that were the shape of their support and vice versa. Robert Delaunay had taken this path tangentially en route to other artistic objectives in the 1910s, and so, in his way, had Piet Mondrian from the late 1910s until his death in 1944. In 1959, Tousignant said he wanted to make paintings stripped of extraneous matter – no symbolism, no narrative, only sensation – anticipating by five years Stella’s famous claim that what one sees in his paintings is what one sees. The shaped canvases Kenneth Noland, Stella and Tousignant painted in the 1960s broke new ground for each artist, and Évanescence chromatique proves that Tousignant’s ambition and achievement were second to none.

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


Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars


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