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LOT 007

Jean Paul Lemieux
1904 - 1990

Les disciples d'Emmaüs
oil on board
signed and dated 1940
40 x 29 1/2 in 101.6 x 74.9 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

Sold for: $229,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Private Collection, Montreal
Sold sale of Important Canadian Art, Sotheby's Canada in association with Ritchie's, May 28, 2007, lot 105
Private Collection, Vancouver

Marius Barbeau, Painters of Quebec, 1946, reproduced page 37
Jean Paul Lemieux, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1967, the study for this work entitled Étude pour Emmaüs listed, catalogue #14, reproduced page 28
Guy Robert, Lemieux, 1975, the study entitled Study for Emmaus, reproduced plate 74
Michèle Grandbois, Jean Paul Lemieux au Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2007, this work and the study entitled Study for Emmaus reproduced pages 42 - 49

Art Association of Montreal, Art of Our Day in Canada, organized by the Contemporary Art Society, November 22 - December 20, 1940
Art Gallery of Toronto, Charles Goldhammer, Jean Paul Lemieux, Peter Haworth, Tom Wood, October 9 - November 1941

“I’ve finished the sketch for my composition on the disciples of Emmaus. I’ll start on the colour tomorrow. In this composition, I’ve tried to situate ancient history in a Canadian setting. I was inspired by medieval illuminations.” That is how Jean Paul Lemieux, in a personal journal entry dated September 9, 1940, described the project that would soon thereafter become Les disciples d'Emmaüs (The Disciples of Emmaus), the first in a small group of narrative works completed between 1940 and 1946. The great interest in this painting is due to its placement at the origin of the painter’s first style, which art historians identify as his “primitivist period,” in contrast with his “classical period,” which is better known and lasted from 1956 to 1970. The iconic works of the primitivist period won the painter immediate recognition. Because they are few in number, however, they are a real rarity in the current art market. With the exception of Les disciples d'Emmaüs, at this time, all are to be found in Canadian museums.
In 1940, Lemieux was troubled by the war rumbling on in Europe and by the delicate position of the clergy in the face of Italian fascism. At 36 years old, he had taught for three years at the École des beaux-arts de Québec, the institution where he would make his career. He lived with his wife Madeleine in an ancestral home in Beauport, less than 10 kilometres from downtown Quebec City. It was there that he painted Les disciples d'Emmaüs. After almost a decade of pictorial practice, Lemieux felt the urgent need to find his own artistic language. Dedicating himself to this vital reflection, he took his time and completed only a limited number of paintings. The latter demonstrate the seductive appeal exerted by different expressions, from Italian Primitivism and the Synthetism of Paul Gauguin to children’s drawings and folk art. In 1940, when Lemieux’s art was turning towards primitivism, the works of popular Charlevoix painters shone at exhibitions at home and abroad. Their simple, genuine language, full of freshness and spontaneity, far from any academism, sparked great interest from the progressive artists of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) in Montreal.
Thus it was that at the exhibition Art of Our Day in Canada, organized by the CAS at the end of 1940, visitors could admire Les disciples d'Emmaüs not far from the works of Simone Marie Bouchard, a representative of Charlevoix folk art. The following year, Lemieux’s composition was again presented publicly, this time at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario). At the end of the exhibition, the Toronto museum acquired the painting Lazare (Lazarus) from 1941. In this way, Lemieux’s work received recognition that would soon spread from coast to coast. Subsequently kept for over half a century in a private collection, Les disciples d'Emmaüs emerged from the shadows in 2007, during a sale at Sotheby’s Canada. This explains why, at the two large retrospectives dedicated to Lemieux in 1967 and 1992, the preparatory study in gouache and graphite was shown rather than the painting. Today, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) houses this magnificent study that still shows signs of the grid marks used by the painter to facilitate transfer to a larger format.
As with the three works Lazare, 1941 (collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario); Notre-Dame protégeant Québec (Our Lady Protecting Quebec City), 1942 (collection of Musée du Séminaire, Québec); and La Fête-Dieu à Québec (Corpus Christi, Quebec City), 1944 (collection of MNBAQ), which were emblematic of Lemieux’s “primitivist” period, Les disciples d'Emmaüs features a pyramidal arrangement set in a vertical format. Likewise, the composition presents a winding road that snakes from the bottom to the top, attached to which are narrative episodes embellished by anecdotal details. At first glance, the supper with Christ and his unbelieving disciples in the village of Emmaus could be interpreted here as the painter being deliciously impertinent. The painting obscures the sacred character of the biblical story (Luke 24:13-35) by placing it alongside the daily activities of a small Laurentian village. Neither does Lemieux hide his intentions to parody the revered art of Titian, Paolo Veronese and Rembrandt by mimicking their masterpieces, while at the same time lending a naive aspect to the scene. To grasp the true meaning of the work, one has to understand it within the context of the religious art revival being experienced at the time in Quebec; its fundamental principle was to incorporate the sacred into everyday life. Without reference to the contemporary context and its technological advances, this exquisite painting tells the story of life in rural Quebec using language cultivated through modern figurative art.
We thank Michèle Grandbois, author of Jean Paul Lemieux au Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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