LOT 033

1904 - 1990

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1960 and on verso signed, titled, inscribed "Toronto" and stamped with the Galerie Agnès Lefort stamp
53 1/4 x 18 7/8 in, 135.3 x 47.9 cm

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000 CAD

Sold for: $169,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Montreal, 1962

Modern [Recent] Canadian Paintings, National Museum in Warsaw, 1962, listed page 16, available at the Library of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Jean Paul Lemieux solo, Galerie Agnès Lefort, 1963, listed, unpaginated, Library and Archives Canada, Jean Paul Lemieux and Madeleine Des Rosiers fonds

National Museum in Warsaw, Poland, Modern [Recent] Canadian Paintings, with the support of the National Gallery of Canada, January 5 - April 1962, catalogue #20
Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal, Jean Paul Lemieux solo, April 1 - 20, 1963, catalogue #18

The early 1960s saw an unprecedented surge in demand among Montreal collectors for works by Quebec artist Jean Paul Lemieux. There just were not enough works to go around. A case in point: Lemieux’s solo show at Galerie Agnès Lefort in April 1963. The gallery, founded in 1950 by painter and art dealer Lefort, was at the forefront of Canada’s avant-garde. It had been taken over in 1962 by Mira Godard, who kept the old name for a few years before relocating to Toronto. Godard’s relationship with Lemieux brought decades of success to both of them, with Lemieux rising to the pinnacle of the Canadian art market.

Of the 28 paintings in the April 1963 show, only 15 were actually for sale—the other 13 were on loan from collectors. As Robert Ayre observed in the Montreal Star, “This was a disappointment to other collectors, who had to be satisfied with looking at what they could not have for themselves. Nevertheless, the show is valuable as a sort of interim retrospective, covering the last two or three years in the life of a painter who has reached a place of importance in Canadian Art by simply ignoring trends and going his own quiet introspective way.”[1]

The show was much lauded by critics. Paul Gladu recommended that readers of the Petit journal spend time with these “paintings bubbling over with allusions, connotations and implications, whose real subject is the very act of looking. Children with dazzled eyes, a woman hiding some wonderful secret, a man brought to stillness by the mystery of the horizon—the depths of each are traded for the depths of the world.” He continued, “Lemieux is the artist of restraint, a trait he shares with the world’s great painters, sculptors and writers.”[2] Laurent Lamy of Le Devoir admired Lemieux’s “omnipresent” characters who, in both portraits and landscapes, are “of a scale unrelated to that of the scene and yet somehow never disrupt the composition. They belong to Lemieux’s own space, which they occupy delicately,” displaying faces that “are almost blank, and yet we sense the hidden life behind those smooth, hermetic features.”[3] Dorothy Pfeiffer concluded her article in the Gazette with the declaration: “Lemieux’s paintings never raise their voices, but their whispered secrets cast a magic spell. To my mind, Jean Paul Lemieux remains as one of the greatest.”[4]

Among the works on loan for the Galerie Lefort show was David, painted in 1960. The throng of visitors viewed it alongside Lemieux’s other characters, including Miss Knight (1961, private collection) and Les perles (1963, private collection), a work of similar dimensions. Also on display were landscapes done in the horizontal format Lemieux preferred in his “classic” 1955 to 1970 period, including L’île aux coudres (1959, private collection), L’hiver en Gaspésie (1962, private collection), Le grand lac Matapédia (1962, private collection) and the celebrated 1910 Remembered (1962, private collection), which was on loan to the show and thus not for sale. A favourite of Lemieux and his wife Madeleine Des Rosiers, it was in fact never sold in their lifetimes.

David exudes an aura of fluidity. Background and form are structured by brush-strokes of paint applied without using an outline to contain the body. That body is thus composed simply of masses of dark colours and light grey that contrast with the luminous background. David emerges delicately against the light in a space barely able to contain the young man. His small head is tilted, perched on its long, cylindrical, quite well-defined neck as he looks appealingly towards the viewer. Lemieux transgresses with the scale of the figure against that of the frame, to problematize this pictorial concept as it extends beyond individual portraiture. As with other figures from Lemieux’s classic period, David seems to evoke the “ages of life” theme, incarnated in the human figure. It is an allegory of adolescence, in which the body grows, the arms and legs get longer, while the expressive young face has yet to mature.

David made two public appearances, at the National Museum in Warsaw in 1962 and then at Galerie Agnès Lefort a year later, before disappearing, to be scrupulously shielded from the spotlight for 60 years. We are privileged to have the opportunity today to encounter and admire this little-known work by Lemieux.

We thank Michèle Grandbois, author of Jean Paul Lemieux au Musée du Québec, for contributing the above essay, translated from the French. This work will be included in Grandbois's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.

1. Robert Ayre, “Jean Paul Lemieux and the Lonely Land,” Montreal Star, April 6, 1963.

2. Paul Gladu, “Jean-Paul Lemieux, peintre: de la fraîcheur de Québec,” Petit journal (Montreal), April 14, 1963.

3. Laurent Lamy, “Jean-Paul Lemieux, chez Agnès Lefort,” Le Devoir (Montreal), April 6, 1963.

4. Dorothy Pfeiffer, “Jean-Paul Lemieux,” Gazette (Montreal)

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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