LOT 038

1923 - 2002

bronze sculpture, 1973 - 1986
signed, editioned 5/8 and stamped with the foundry mark FB
11 3/4 x 11 5/8 x 6 1/2 in, 29.8 x 29.5 x 16.5 cm

Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000 CAD

Sold for: $79,250

Preview at:

A Prominent Montreal Estate

Yseult Riopelle, Jean Paul Riopelle: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 5, 1972 - 1979, 2020, reproduced page 522, catalogue #1973.10SC.1973

The owl is a recurring figure in Jean Paul Riopelle’s oeuvre. While its first most notable appearance was in the 1963 polyptych Point de rencontre—commissioned for Toronto Pearson Airport and now hanging in the Rideau Hall ballroom—Hibou premier, an oil on canvas board dated 1939 - 1941, was its first official iteration, when Riopelle was studying under Henri Bisson. Hibou premier is far removed from what Riopelle’s future works would look like, but it contains certain hints of his use of colour in the mottled background. The artist worked in abstraction for decades, cultivating and honing his unique approach to it. However, in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Riopelle experimented with figuration again and reintroduced the figure of the owl. It appears in paintings (Hibou Jet-Black, 1970), prints (Les hiboux, 1970) and an entire suite of sculptures, to which this piece belongs.

Hibou-carnaval depicts an owl—perhaps a great horned owl with its two feathered horns—with its wings and tail open as if it is a peacock parading. The two feathers jut upwards, in a joyous and expressive fashion. As is typical with Riopelle’s sculpted work, Hibou-carnaval has an irregular and organic shape and is heavily textured with creases and edges from the artist’s fingerprints, reminding us of his presence. Deep calligraphic ridges cover the bird of prey’s body, as if to outline its plumage.

Although Riopelle’s interest in tri-dimensional works started from a young age and his earliest documented sculptures date from 1947, the medium was not an integral part of his practice until the 1960s. For him, it was a way to break from the habits of painting and reconnect to the visceral action of making something with his hands. Riopelle’s daughter, Yseult, recounts her father’s methods of sculpting:

With the tips of his ten fingers, lovingly, impetuously, he marks, pinches, fashions the malleable clay, whips and prods it with the point of a tool as if to tame its liveliness. Before long the fledgling owl breaks through its shell, and from the moment of its first flying lesson instinctively takes its place in the artist’s fantastic and playful bestiary.[1]

Riopelle would even incorporate found objects in his clay models, such as an old shovel, a crucible, a three-legged stool and a bottle-rack. “Anything in the studio could be sucked into Riopelle’s creative vortex, which feared neither god nor man.”[2]

Following the owl, geese appeared in the artist’s bestiary. To quote the late art historian François-Marc Gagnon: “All these works with bird subjects are evidence of a practice that is supported by nature and serves as the pretext for creation. For Riopelle, there was no gap between his abstract work and his figurative work. Both were a part of the same act, the same ‘doing.’ ”[3] Riopelle would say: “For example, if someone asked me why I drew two thousand owls, I would say ‘It was to make ten lithographs.’ But in reality, it was making the two thousand owls that interested me. Not because they are owls. I couldn’t care less about owls. They aren’t necessarily symbols. I wasn’t thinking of what they meant when I made them. I made them.”[4] That being said, it is still interesting to examine the meaning of this nocturnal hunting bird. The owl symbolizes wisdom and spirituality, but is also associated with the occult and nighttime.

Lively and deeply expressive rather than serious and dark, our Hibou-carnaval evokes celebration and conviviality. The owl’s wings are open wide, in a welcoming gesture, inviting us in. The clay sculpture was made in 1973 and cast in 1986. Another cast of Hibou-carnaval is in the collection of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

1. Yseult Riopelle, “Studio Memories,” in Riopelle: mémoires d’ateliers (Montreal: Hibou Éditeurs, 2010), exhibition catalogue, 19.

2. Ibid., 21.

3. François-Marc Gagnon, “The Owls,” in Jean Paul Riopelle: Life & Work (Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2019).

4. Quoted in Gilles Daigneault, “Did Someone Say ‘Bestiary’?,” in Riopelle: les migrations du Bestiaire: une rétrospective (Montreal: Hibou Éditeurs, 2014), exhibition catalogue, 13–14.

Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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