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PAUL-ÉMILE BORDUAS, R.C.A. (1905-1960)

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Galerie Alan Klinkhoff
Paul-Émile Borduas
Joyeuses Facettes, 1956
Oil on canvas 52" x 41 1/2" (Sold)
Detailed view
Paul-Émile Borduas remembered by Walter Klinkhoff
In Paris, Borduas was living in his studio where he had a mattress on the floor in the corner. He painted at that time enormous black and white abstractions and occasionally some of more manageable dimensions, which I bought. Obviously hard up for money, Borduas never tried to sell and did not really like to part with any of his work. The last picture I bought was a 20" x 24" canvas. A Montreal architect borrowed it. He had been a good customer, but of late, having already too many pictures, he usually brought back what he took. The price was $375, and the day after he took it the papers reported the sudden death of the artist. This time I did not get the picture back and years later it was resold for a very high price.

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1949 Borduas sold by Klinkhoff "magnificent" and "especially rare"

By Dr. François-Marc Gagnon, O.C.
Concordia University

This magnificent Borduas painting is a fine discovery. Paintings of 1949 are especially rare to come upon. A year after the publication of the manifesto Refus Global, and his suspension from his teaching position at the École du Meuble, 1949 was not an easy year for Borduas. He literally had to live from his painting. For this purpose Le tombeau de la cathédrale défunte was first exhibited in Surrational Painting among nineteen other recent works in an exhibition at the studio of brothers Guy and Jacques Viau (May 14-26). This gives us a more precise idea of the date of the painting: somewhere between January and May 1949, before Borduas fell ill with stomach ulcers and had to be operated on. Up until 1948 Borduas was in the habit of giving us the order in which his paintings were done by adding a number like 1.48, 2.48, 3.48…to the literary title. In 1949, he abandoned that practice.

At the end of the year he had another opportunity to exhibit Le tombeau de la cathédrale défunte, this time in Quebec City in a group show organized by the painter Irène Legendre who would teach in the sixties at the École des beaux-arts in Montreal. Legendre proposed Stanley Cosgrove, Goodridge Roberts and Borduas to exhibit alongside her at the Musée du Québec, 23 November – 18 December. At this show, due to the publication of a bilingual catalogue, the eighteen works Borduas exhibited are recorded. Le tombeau de la cathédrale défunte bore the number 17, which is still visible on the back of the stretcher. A few sales were made during this exhibition and so Borduas avoided for a few more months "the black misery to come", as he would refer to an ensuing period in Projections libérantes, a pamphlet written and published about this time.

Le tombeau de la cathédrale défunte reflects the general mood of Borduas’ paintings after his firing from the École du Meuble. As an anonymous letter to the newspaper Le Canada 20 May 1949, p. 4, noted: "Borduas goes back into the night, but under unsuspected layers of emotional consciousness, to unearth glimmers and bursts of whole realms that no one before him has approached". This comment applies perfectly well to our painting. In the imagination of Borduas, the verticality of the strokes of the painting knife on a dark blue background, could indeed depict the architecture of a cathedral sinking in the dark. For the man who wrote in the Refus global, "The hell with the holy water, sprinkler and the tuque!" Borduas’ title imagining the "tomb of a defunct cathedral" is not surprising. The title was surely given after the painting was done but it corresponds to a reading of the picture by Borduas and as such has its interest. The title seems reminiscent of the famous Pavane pour une infante défunte, by Ravel and it is not the only allusion to music during that period. Another recently discovered painting of 1949 is titled Allegro furioso. Maybe Borduas, like many abstractionists, wanted to suggest that non-figurative painting could emulate music in the creation of moods or feelings. At any rate this beautiful Tombeau de la cathédrale défunte adds a major piece to the work of one of our great artist, Borduas.

Copyright Dr. François-Marc Gagnon, 2014

Paul-Émile Borduas Biography
Born in Saint-Hilaire, Paul-Émile Borduas had a profound influence on the development of the arts in Quebec. He first studied with Ozias Leduc, who took him on as an apprentice in some of his projects to decorate churches in Sherbrooke, Halifax and Montreal. He then studied at the School of Fine Arts in Montreal from 1923 to 1927 and at the Ateliers d’Art Sacré in Paris from 1928 to 1930. Back in Montreal during the economic crisis Borduas had to fall back on teaching for a living. He got a job at the École du Meuble in 1937 and discovered automatism, inspired by advice that Leonardo da Vinci had given his students. In 1942, he exhibited 45 surrealist works at the Salle de l’Hermitage in Montreal, which also included several "Automatiste" works. His art influenced many young artists, making him the leader of the "Automatiste Movement". In 1948, he published, along with several other artists, the manifesto "Refus global" in which he denounced the conservative ideology of the preservation of past values, the Catholoc Church and the right-wing nationalism of Maurice Duplessis. This caused him to lose his job at the École du Meuble, after which he was forced to sell his house in Saint-Hilaire and exile himself in New York, where artistic research could be expressed more freely. In 1955, Borduas left for Paris in the hope of receiving more recognition in France, but unfortunately did not find the success he had hoped for. He died of a heart attack in Paris on February 21st, 1960, leaving behind an outstanding body of work. His influence on the development of art in Quebec is undeniable.

Paul-Émile Borduas paintings sold
  Paul-Émile Borduas - Galerie Alan Klinkhoff  
Paul-Émile Borduas
The Tomb of the Deceased Cathedral, 1949
Oil on canvas 25.1/2" x 31.3/4" (Sold)
Detailed view
  Paul-Émile Borduas - Galerie Alan Klinkhoff  
Paul-Émile Borduas
Antique jewels, 1956
Oil on canvas 23 1/2" x 28 3/4" (Sold)
Detailed view
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