Marcel Barbeau was born in Montreal on February 18, 1925. He studied painting and sculpture with Paul-Émile Borduas at the École du Meuble de Montréal, where he was a student in furniture design. Barbeau was an active member of the Quebec contemporary art movement known as Les Automatistes, continually exhibiting with them from 1945 onwards. In Montreal, 1948, Barbeau was one of sixteen signatories of Les Automatistes’ anti-religious, anti-establishment Refus global manifesto. Travelling extensively from 1958 to 1974, Barbeau lived and exhibited in Paris, New York and California.
Mainly known as a painter, Barbeau was a multidisciplinary artist involved in most visual art media - drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, as well as performance art where he created many monumental works. His art has been in solo exhibitions and mentioned in publications across Canada, the United States, Europe and Northern Africa. He was also the subject of art films, such as renowned film maker, Manon Barbeau’s Barbeau Libre comme l’Art, produced by InformAction and the National Film Board of Canada in the year 2000.
Barbeau has received numerous prizes, such as the Zack Purchase Prize from the Royal Canadian Academy in 1963 and a Lynch-Staunton Foundation Grant by the Canada Council for the Arts in 1973. In 1985, Barbeau was awarded the sculpture purchase award of the McDonald Canada Art Competition. In August 1922, Barbeau was invited to join the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (R.C.A.) and became a recipient of the Order of Canada (C.M.) in 1995. Canada Post reproduced one of his works on a stamp in 1998 as part of its series in honor of Les Automatist painters. He was the special guest artist at the 2003 Montreal Jazz Festival, which published a limited numbered print, Django Blue, for the occasion.
His works are in many private, public and corporate collections in Canada, in the United States and in Europe such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, British Museum, Chrysler Art Gallery in Norfolk, Virginia, Lyon Museum of Fine Arts, National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée d'art contemporain in Montreal, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec in Quebec City, the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, New Jersey and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Barbeau passed away in Montreal on January 2, 2016 at the age of 90.