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LOT 026

Alfred Pellan
1906 - 1988

mixed media on card on canvas on board
signed and dated 1958 and on verso signed, titled, inscribed "649 Grande Côte, Ste-Rose Est, Cté Laval, PQ / #348" and stamped with the artist's stamp
28 x 22 in 71.1 x 55.9 cm

Estimate: $35,000 - $45,000

Sold for: $38,025

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

An Important Private Estate, Montreal

11th Annual Winter Exhibition, Art Gallery of Hamilton, 1960
Germain Lefebvre, Pellan, Musée du Québec, 1972, listed page 120
Marie Carani and Germain Lefebvre, Alfred Pellan, Musée du Québec, 1993, Art Gallery of Hamilton exhibition listed page 130, catalogue #67

Art Gallery of Hamilton, 11th Annual Winter Exhibition, February 2 - 28, 1960, catalogue #67
Musée du Québec, Pellan, September 7 - October 8, 1972, traveling in 1972 - 1973 to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, catalogue #136

Alfred Pellan was a pivotal figure in the advent of modernist art in Quebec in the 1940s and after. A prodigy, he left the province in 1926 on a Quebec government scholarship at age 20 to study in Paris. Pellan was closely associated with progressive artistic styles on the Continent and at home. Highly successful in Paris, he gained recognition within the second generation of the School of Paris, artists concerned with both Surrealism and abstraction. In 1935, for example, he had his first solo exhibition in Paris and he also won first prize in a Paris competition for mural art, a genre in which he subsequently excelled in Canada. Pellan returned to Montreal in 1940 because of World War II, and quickly became a leading voice for reform in aesthetic taste and teaching practices. His call for the liberalization and modernization of art chimed with both the Surrealist priorities he knew well in Europe and with the frustration with the status quo in 1940s Montreal. Pellan’s prominence has been amply recognized: he became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967, received the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas in 1984 and became an Officer of the Ordre national du Québec in 1985.
Pellan was a bridge between advanced European art and the increasingly radical scene in Quebec after his return in 1940. A leading if also sometimes dissenting voice in avant-garde circles, in 1948 he founded the group Prisme d’Yeux to promote new ways of seeing and making art. Fifteen artists signed the group’s manifesto. Pellan was one of four Canadian artists who comprised the country’s first official entry into the Venice Biennale in 1952 (the others were Emily Carr, David Milne and Goodridge Roberts). Not coincidentally, given his increasing prominence, Pellan won a grant from the Royal Society of Canada in 1952 that allowed him to return to Paris from 1952 to 1955. In 1955, he was the first Canadian artist honoured with a solo exhibition at Paris’s Musée national d'art moderne.
Phytographie is a fine example of Pellan’s visually arresting style and of his approach to modernizing art. He believed in the process of rattrapage – of retracing the accomplishments of modern European art in order to catch up with them aesthetically and to create a personal vocabulary of artistic means. So it is that we sense echoes of European art in many of Pellan’s works – whether of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, André Masson, Paul Klee, or others – yet at the same time recognize immediately the unique look of his work.
Pellan moved increasingly towards abstraction, yet the title Phytographie suggests a Surrealist allegiance to the morphologies of the visible world. Phytography is descriptive botany. Here Pellan vividly describes the macro and micro levels of biological change. The sweeping green forms that dominate the top and bottom of the canvas suggest leaves in the upper left and a split-open stem at the base. These large-scale vegetal forms stand out against a carefully designed black and white ground that could stand in itself as a simpler, fully abstract painting. But such surfaces are not Pellan’s only interest; he takes us inside the vitalism of the garden here, opening forms to what we can imagine is their cellular level. For example, the interior of the saturated red fruit-like form towards the bottom left of the surface – is it a pomegranate? – is open to our gaze. Here and inside many of the other forms we see what appears to be microscopic biological activity, the engines, we might say, that create form.
We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of the recent Artwriting, Nation, and Cosmopolitanism in Britain: The “Englishness” of English Art Theory since the 18th Century, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $35,000 - $45,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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