LOT 006

1905 - 1960

Des paysans miment des anges
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1953 and on verso titled on the artist's label and gallery labels, dated and inscribed "Provincetown" on the artist's label and with the Dominion Gallery Inventory #A1980 on the gallery label and stamped Winsor & Newton Linen Canvas / Artist Materials C.R. Crowley Limited, 1387 St. Catherine St. W., Montreal 25, Que.
22 1/8 x 18 1/4 in, 56.2 x 46.4 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000 CAD

Sold for: $265,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Passedoit Gallery, New York, 1954
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, London, England, 1954
By descent to the present Private Collection, London, England

François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas (1905 – 1960) Biographie critique et analyse de l'oeuvre, 1978, listed pages 323 #19, 348 #10, 386 #14 and 490
François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1988, page 299n3
François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas: A Critical Biography, 2013, listed page 304
Borduas Online Catalogue Raisonné, Concordia University Fine Arts, catalogue #2005-0991, https://borduas.concordia.ca/catalog

Passedoit Gallery, New York, Paul-Émile Borduas, January 5 - 23, 1954, catalogue #14

In 1953, Paul-Émile Borduas left the claustrophobia and hostility he was experiencing in Montreal as a result of his signing the Automatists' Refus global manifesto to live in the USA, settling initially in Cape Cod’s Provincetown, near Boston. Several visits to New York in the spring and summer led to him moving there full time in October; he would remain in the city for the next two years before decamping to Paris. New York at the time was hosting extraordinarily vibrant discourse and advancements in abstract painting, and it was here that he encountered the work of the Abstract Expressionists he admired, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline. Removed from the context of Quebec, Borduas went through a period of rapid development, encouraged to begin to refine and expand his painterly techniques.

In January 1954, Borduas held his first exhibition in New York, a solo show at Passedoit Gallery on East 57th Street. That the show was arranged so quickly—just three months after Borduas settled in the city, though the artist referred to “a one man show on my arrival” in New York as early as June 1953—speaks to the esteem in which the artist was already held. Comprising works from 1947 through to 1953, this exhibition tracked Borduas’s developments from Surrealism to Automatism. Des paysans miment des anges was one of the 24 paintings shown at this pivotal exhibition. True to Borduas’s feeling that the Refus global manifesto of the Automatists had an essentially regional character compared to the perceived universalism of the New York School, the sparse catalogue for this exhibition contained no mention of this manifesto, or of Automatism as a movement; rather, it billed Borduas simply as a much-valued Canadian artist, and otherwise allowed the works to speak for themselves.

At the time this painting was executed, Borduas had not yet been fully exposed to the developments of American painting, and the works he was producing still retained the essential Automatist character of freedom and independence. Placed in this new, international context, however, paintings such as Des paysans miment des anges can be read as being in the midst of transformation. Here we can see that his compositions were beginning to show the stronger “all-over” technique that would come to characterize his works through the remainder of his New York period. The sense of a defined figure/ground spatial relationship—complex masses developing against a darker background—is diminished in favour of a riotous use of colour that takes over the entire canvas. The background extends forward and occupies the same surface as the exploded, fragmentary objects.

The work is painted with a palette knife in a dense weave of rapid strokes: rich greens and burnished reds are agitated by flashes of white and black, the pigments smearing and sliding into each other in a glittering chorus. Colour and form become a single sensuous, dappled expression of the artist’s hand, as the composition expands to fill the whole picture plane. The background is not wholly eliminated, however, and we still maintain a sense that the mosaic of gestures forms a tactile pictorial surface. Borduas would only title his works after their completion, allowing himself to react instinctively to the resulting image. The title of this painting translates as “peasants mimic angels,” perhaps alluding to the collapse and equalization of the aesthetic structures that the artist had begun experimenting with, or to the outright exultation that such an energetic painterly expression could bring about. Des paysans miment des anges, produced at a crucial juncture of Borduas’s career, demonstrates the painter at the height of his confidence.

This work was purchased directly from Borduas’s seminal Passedoit Gallery show and has remained in the collection of the same London, England family ever since. Heffel is delighted to present this work for the first time to the Canadian market and international art market.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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