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LOT 016

Paul-Émile Borduas
1905 - 1960

Poisson volant
gouache on paper
signed and dated 1942
16 3/4 x 22 7/8 in 42.5 x 58.1 cm

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000

Sold for: $76,050

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

A gift from the Artist to his wife's parents
By descent to the present Private Collection, Quebec

François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas (1905 - 1960), Biographie critique et analyse de l'oeuvre, 1978, translated from the French, pages 123 and 130
This work is included in François-Marc Gagnon's online catalogue raisonné on the artist's work at www.borduas.concordia.ca/en/about/index.php

This Paul-Émile Borduas gouache belongs to a series done in 1942 and exhibited at the Ermitage (nothing to do with the Hermitage in Russia, unfortunately), a gymnasium and concert hall at the Collège de Montréal. Many of these gouaches are known only by a number, some by a number and a title, but rarely - like this one - only by a title. The reason is that it was given by Borduas to his in-laws. My student, François Laurin, then in the Art History Department at the Université de Montréal, was told by someone in the family in 1973 that they were not 100 percent sure of the title, but that it was known to them as “le poisson volant”. And indeed, one could read it as a kind of “flying fish”, detaching itself from a grey background. The red shape in the bottom right corner could be its tail, and the white spot in the upper left corner, possibly its eye. We could see it then as jumping out of the water along the diagonal of the page.
This discussion of the title of the work should not create the impression, however, that this gouache was done with the intention of painting a fish. It would be a complete misunderstanding of the way this painting, and the others exhibited at the same time in 1942, were done. Borduas, as a matter of fact, had clearly explained how he proceeded in a conversation with the art critic Maurice Gagnon in May of 1942. “I have no preconceived idea,” he declared. “In front of a sheet of white paper, with a mind void of all literary ideas, I obey the first impulse. If I have the idea of using my charcoal in the middle of the page or on one side, I do it without hesitation and go on like this. A first line is drawn in that manner, and this line divides the sheet of paper. This division of the page triggers a whole set of thoughts, always executed automatically….. Having finished with the drawing I follow the same method with the colour. If my first idea is to use a green, or a red – I don’t discuss it.”
The main idea is that if any subject matter could be read here, it is in the finished work and never conceived beforehand as an intention, or a program defined in advance. Borduas wanted to give all the power to the unconscious and let the order come from within, instead of being imposed from the outside. This idea came, of course, from the practice of “écriture automatique”, defended by the poet André Breton and the Surrealists. In their poems, the Surrealist writers would begin without any preconceived ideas and follow the dictate of their unconscious. They also shared, in the beginning, the idea that every man carried inside of himself a treasure of poetry and that the only thing that was needed to bring it to light was to convince him to write without preconceived ideas. But obviously, as Borduas’s Poisson volant demonstrates, not everybody has the same wealth of images, forms and colours in his unconscious! This beautiful gouache should be enjoyed both for its formal qualities and for the suggestion of freedom implicit in the title. After all, a flying fish is not such a common occurrence.
We thank François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute of Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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