Lot # 058
Spring 2016 - 1st Session Live auction

Jean Paul Lemieux
CC QMG RCA 1904 - 1990 Canadian

L'énigme
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1964 and on verso titled and dated on the exhibition labels
40 7/8 x 62 1/4 in  103.8 x 158.1cm

Provenance:
Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal
Private Collection, Montreal

Literature:
Luc d'Iberville-Moreau, Jean Paul Lemieux, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, 1967, reproduced page 58
Anne Hébert, Jean Paul Lemieux, Ministère des affairs culturelles du Québec, 1974, reproduced page 38
Guy Robert, Lemieux, 1975, reproduced page 212

Exhibited:
Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Jean Paul Lemieux, September 15 - October 11, 1967, traveling to the Musée du Québec, Quebec City, and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1967 - 1968, catalogue #82
Musée du Québec, Quebec City, Jean Paul Lemieux, 1974, traveling to Moscow, Leningrad, Prague and Paris, 1974 - 1975, catalogue #23

Few painters have confronted directly the subject of a night sky. Even in the famous painting The Night Watch (1642), by Rembrandt van Rijn, the eye is more attracted by the militia company of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, the burgemeester (mayor) of Amsterdam, than by the small patch of starless sky above the company on the left. We are even told that the title of the painting could be a misnomer, since the sombre setting of the scene could have been produced by the dark varnish that was used to protect the painting.
In comparison, Jean Paul Lemieux made the night sky the main subject matter of a number of his paintings. Here, the primary focus of the painter is not really on the young man depicted at the bottom of the painting, but on the starry sky itself, where some constellations are even recognizable—like Orion and Cassiopeia on the man's right, the Plough above his head, and what is possibly the Summer Triangle on his left. This gives a touch of realism to what could be an almost metaphysical painting—Man and His World, or to put it in the words of German philosopher Martin Heidegger: Dasein und sein Umwelt. We are indeed lost in this immense universe, and the uncertain expression on the face of the young man translates the concern (Sorge), which according to Heidegger is our most basic attitude in this life. What are we in this boundless universe? Of what are we sure, except our own death? Is this the “enigma” suggested in the title of the painting?
We are very far from the almost exuberant feeling expressed in Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting that is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Starry Night (1889), in which the stars and the constellation are engulfed in fantastic whirlwinds coming directly from the imagination of the painter. Even the cypress tree and the small village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence seem affected by the movements in the sky. Again, what is striking in this Lemieux painting is its matter-of-fact character. Fantasy seems to have no place here. This is a starry night sky as we would see it—at least in the country, because, unfortunately in our big cities, seeing the night sky is not possible any more. Its grandeur humbles us, and at the same time, questions our relevance in the world. But is it not “enigmatic” that we could be conscious of our own limits? That we could recognize the immensity of our universe without being crushed by it? Especially these days, when scientists have detected, 100 years after Albert Einstein, traces of gravitational waves coming from the merging of two black holes of 29 and 36 solar masses, respectively, and situated at 1.3 billion light-years away!
L’énigme was included in the famous Lemieux exhibition organized in 1974 by the Musée du Québec, which made him known in Russia, since the exhibition traveled to Moscow and Leningrad (and also to Prague and Paris). The Russian public recognized itself in Lemieux’s painting. The snowy landscapes he depicted seemed familiar to them, as they are for us. Lemieux was very happy about this reaction abroad. For him, it gave an international legitimacy to his painting, which was too often associated exclusively with the Québécois landscape. He perceived himself as a painter of the North, and as such, his work could appeal to the Russian public as much as to the Canadian one.
We thank François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $300,000 ~ $400,000 CAD  
Sold for: $295,000 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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