Inventory # PCRE-03492-0048

1923 - 2002

La forêt enchantée
oil on canvas
signed and on verso titled and dated 1957 on the labels and inscribed with the Dominion Gallery inventory #A2748
38 x 50 7/8 in 96.5 x 129.2 cm

Acquired directly from the Artist by Dominion Gallery, Montreal, 1957
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Collection of Hon. John Aird, Toronto
Collection of John Hallward, Montreal
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Montreal
Canadian Post-War & Contemporary Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, May 27, 2015, lot 34
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Vancouver, 2015

Pearl Sheffy, "Jean Paul Riopelle Talks About Art," The Globe Magazine (Toronto), May 9, 1954, page 8
Robert Ayre, "Riopelle, Borduas at the Dominion," Montreal Star, October 27, 1957
Evan H. Turner, 25 Quebec Painters, Stratford Festival Art Exhibition, 1961, listed and reproduced, unpaginated
Jacques Michel, "Le retour de Riopelle. Quand l’espace vient à la ficelle," Le Monde (Paris), September 13, 1972, page 15
Pierre Schneider, Riopelle: signes mêlés, 1972, page 39

Dominion Gallery, Montreal, September 25 - October 16, 1957
Stratford Festival Art Exhibition, Ontario, 25 Quebec Painters, June 19 - September 23, 1961

La forêt enchantée was purchased from Jean Paul Riopelle in Paris by Dr. Max Stern and was exhibited in Montreal at the Dominion Gallery from September 25 to October 16, 1957, along with works by Paul-Émile Borduas, Paul Vanier Beaulieu and Llewellyn Petley-Jones, a British artist. It was a huge show of 100 paintings, in which our painting would have stood out. The art critic Robert Ayre wrote about it in “Riopelle, Borduas at the Dominion,” the Montreal Star, October 27, 1957.

Riopelle is often quoted as resenting the idea that he could be seen as the painter of the Canadian forests. In an interview with Pierre Schneider, Riopelle stated (my translation):

Since I am born in Canada, people always speak of the great Canadian forest in referring to my paintings. I remember making a trip to Montreal with a French man who had come to Canada for the first time. We boarded the train in Halifax. What we saw were small wooded areas, one after the other. Forty hours later, we saw the same kind of thing in Montreal. These are the Canadian forests I am familiar with. When people speak of the immensity of forests in Canada, they do not know what they are talking about. It has nothing to do with Canadian nature. I am not the painter of the wild forests or of the boundless plains.

Riopelle also stated, in Le Monde, “People always say when looking at my paintings: Ah! The Canadian forests...the great space seen from so far above that it becomes abstract...But I never wanted to paint that." Seeking to dissociate himself from too close a tie to abstraction, Riopelle explained, in the interview with Schneider just quoted, that the word “abstraction” means to come from (as in extracting matter from a subject in nature to concentrate on form only), but that the direction of his creative impulse is never from, but always towards something: never from an intention already well defined, but towards something unknown, to be achieved in the very process of painting. By saying so, Riopelle was warning us to not be too quick to attribute intention to the painter’s mind - as in the case of this painting, thinking that he would have wanted to paint the forest. He also said, to Pearl Sheffy, “When I begin painting, I go towards an idea, not from one. I have no idea of how I will start. I have no preconceived idea. If I begin to think of forms or colors, I immediately stop painting."

In reality, a title such as La forêt enchantée (The Enchanted Forest) suggests a possible reading of the painting. It could refer to the dense interplay of dark strokes, which resemble a thicket of intermingled branches. But other readings are possible, such as a purely abstract one, stressing the fact that black is treated here as a colour, that movement and animation are given to the surface by the orientation of each stroke of the painting knife, and that these strokes are well contained in the limits of the surface. Maybe it is because of the potential contradiction between such titles and his process of working without preconceived idea that Riopelle left so many paintings as Untitled.

The above essay was written by François-Marc Gagnon in May 2015.

This work is included as an addendum to Volume 2, 1954 - 1959, in Yseult Riopelle's online catalogue raisonné on the artist's work at

Available for viewing at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

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