Lot # 141
Canadian, Impressionist & Modern Art Live auction

Marc-Aurèle Fortin
ARCA 1888 - 1970 Canadian

Landscape in the Laurentians
oil on canvas
signed and on verso signed, titled, dated 1929 on the gallery labels and inscribed "Price $" and "For sale"
26 1/4 x 35 1/2 in  66.7 x 90.2cm

Provenance:
The Fine Art Galleries, T. Eaton Co. Limited, Montreal
Collection of Justice Mercier, circa 1933
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Galerie d'art Michel Bigué, Saint-Sauveur-des-Monts
Private Collection, Montreal

Literature:
A Catalogue of the 46th Spring Exhibition, Art Association of Montreal, 1929, page 5
“Au salon des artistes canadiens à la Art Association (reproduction d'oeuvres),” La Presse, March 22, 1929, reproduced page 3
Henri Girard, “Le salon du printemps,” La Revue moderne, no. 7, May 1929, page 10
Jean Chauvin, “Un salon d'art canadien; la Galerie Sidney Carter, Montréal,” La Revue populaire, vol. 23, no. 9, September 1930, reproduced page 15
“Fortin Exhibition in Eaton Gallery,” The Gazette, (Montreal), September 19, 1933, page 4
A.K. Prakash, “Marc-Aurèle Fortin (1888 - 1970): Le peintre poète,” Magazin'art, no. 4, summer 2001, reproduced page 123

Exhibited:
Art Association of Montreal, 46th Spring Exhibition, March 21 - April 14, 1929, catalogue #77
Interior Decorating Galleries, Montreal, Artistes québécois, September 1930
The Fine Art Galleries, T. Eaton Co. Limited, Montreal, Marc-Aurèle Fortin, September 1933

The painter Marc-Aurèle Fortin’s fame increased considerably during the 1920s. This was the era when the magnificent elms of his hometown of Sainte-Rose and the area surrounding Montreal covered his canvases, creating vibrating masses of green within which peaceful day-to-day rural life unfolded. Trees and rustic houses pressed their coloured shadows slantwise across the path; the painter placed tiny ramblers there or, more often, a horse-drawn cart heavily laden with hay. This preferred motif leads the gaze off into the distance, while leaving no doubt as to the rural nature of the place.

Fortin’s “symphonies in green” were expressions of a painted identity to which he would lay claim until the end of his life. During his studies in Chicago in 1909, the young artist was sensitive to the core identity that so enlivened American painting. Upon his return to Montreal, he favoured themes in keeping with his vision of a style of national painting. Thus, he joined his art to the movement of contemporary landscape artists, notably Clarence Gagnon in Charlevoix and the Group of Seven in the wild regions of northern Ontario. Fortin set himself apart, however, by broadening his thematic range to include transformations of the city and harbour in the metropolis where he lodged in the second half of the 1920s. Were not life on the land and the great urban construction yards subjects that defined his country? By painting these subjects, Fortin succeeded at the difficult task of reconciling the proponents of a regionalist tradition with the adepts of modernity.

But apart from the subject matter, there is the challenge of how to paint it. From 1924 on, Fortin’s painting skill and quality of pictorial form satisfied the demanding juries for the shows of the Art Association of Montreal and the Royal Academy of Art, who regularly accepted his entries into the two large annual exhibitions in spring and fall. For their part, art critics praised his personal, decorative and original style, in which they witnessed the expression of a rich temperament. For a decade, from 1924 to 1933, Fortin’s works enjoyed excellent visibility in 28 exhibitions, presented mainly in Montreal, including two in particular - at the Saint-Sulpice Library in 1926, and at the Art Association of Montreal in 1932 to 1933. This visibility extended to the pages of the daily newspaper La Presse, in which readers could admire the reproductions of several works - for example, in January of 1928, when a colour illustration of one painting from his series of tall trees took up an entire page.

Landscape in the Laurentians (Paysage des Laurentides) exemplifies this pivotal and flourishing time in the art of Fortin and, more broadly, his singular contribution to the history of Québécois and Canadian art. Though the composition may distance itself from the austerity of certain paintings from the series on tall trees, it possesses the same powerful expressiveness and a mastery of brush-stroke that here becomes an undeniable pictorial signature. Critics pointed out the landscape artist’s daring touches, which were both decorative and fantastical. His “formal inventions,” as they called them, are evident in Landscape in the Laurentians, with the leaves of the central tree pulsing with flamboyant colours amidst a bower of green. Ultimately, the incongruous light and shadows, the flawed scale of the people, the collage of different effects in the sky and on the ground do not matter. Fortin’s work glorified the expressiveness of an all-powerful Nature without disturbing everyday human activity or the continuity of a Québécois village.

The provenance of Landscape in the Laurentians, well documented by Sarah Mainguy, author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, indicates that the work was kept out of the public sphere for nearly 70 years, which explains why it did not appear in any exhibitions after 1933. Its recent rediscovery brilliantly supports Fortin’s vision of his art in 1928: “La peinture n’est pas autre chose qu'une poésie plastique” (Painting is nothing but visual poetry).

We thank Michèle Grandbois, editor of the book Marc-Aurèle Fortin: L'expérience de la couleur, for contributing the above essay.

We thank Sarah Mainguy from the Fondation Marc-Aurèle Fortin for her assistance in researching this lot.

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist’s work, #H-1039.

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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