LOT 208

1905 - 1960

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1954 and on verso titled, dated on the labels and inscribed "Borduas, 119 E 17 New York 3, N.Y." on the artist's label
18 x 15 in, 45.7 x 38.1 cm

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

Sold for: $241,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal, 1954
Gérard Lortie, summer 1955
Galerie Claude Lafitte, Montreal
The Joan Stewart Clarke Collection, Vancouver

François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas (1905 - 1960): Biographie critique et analyse de l'oeuvre, 1978, mentioned pages 365 and 386
François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas: A Critical Biography, 2013, titled as Boast, mentioned page 374

Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal, En route!, October 12 - 26, 1954, catalogue #8

It is difficult to overstate the artistic and cultural authority of Paul-Émile Borduas in Canada. A powerful model of commitment to art, a significant art theorist, and an influential teacher and mentor for generations of Montreal abstractionists, he also instigated Canada’s most momentous artistic manifesto, Refus global (1948). This outspoken call for aesthetic and social freedom erupted from the group that formed around Borduas in Montreal in the early 1940s and by 1947 came to be called Les Automatistes. As the name suggests, Borduas and his younger confrères – including Jean Paul Riopelle – were compelled by the “automatic” techniques of the Surrealists and experimentation in art generally. The group exhibited in New York in 1946 and in Paris in 1947.

The Refus global unsparingly criticized the conservative politics of the Quebec government and the Catholic Church of the time, with the result that Borduas was suspended from his teaching post at the École du meuble de Montréal. His delayed response was to move to the USA, first to the artists' colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1953, and then in the fall of that year, to New York City (to the address inscribed on the artist’s label on the verso of Fanfaronnade). Although he was successful in New York, he nonetheless relocated to Paris two years later.

Borduas took advantage of the unparalleled efflorescence of abstract painting in New York at this time. Some paintings track his interest in Jackson Pollock’s techniques, for example. Graffiti, also from 1954, includes skeins of dripped and thrown-on pigment. But in keeping with the call for personal freedom and independence made by the Automatists, his work remained identifiably his own. Fanfaronnade developed within the trajectory of painterly preoccupations evident in Borduas’s work from the late 1940s and his pre-New York work of the 1950s.

The magnificently complex layering of surface pigments that we see in Fanfaronnade is vintage Borduas. Intensely coloured forms run into and over one another. Some are melded by dragging thick pigment with a palette knife; others are thinner and seem to flow on their own. While all parts of the canvas are put in motion by Borduas’s dynamic handling, focal points emerge as figures against a ground. The largely horizontal green passages do not form a conventional background, yet the predominantly red, black and white forms do dominate closer to what we perceive as the painting’s surface to establish temporarily perceptible motifs.

Borduas’s title translates into English as “boast” or “bragging.” If we imagine that he was referring to his own mastery of technique and confidence, we might also think that the brilliance of this painting justified him in feeling more “American” at this time, as he claimed. But more expansively, Borduas was a leader in the terms emphasized by Lora Carney as she measured his contributions: for Borduas and the Automatists, the avant-garde “is not just an experimental movement. It is a movement based on the conviction that art can be an agent for change in the world.”[1]

We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto, for contributing the above essay. Cheetham is the author of two books on abstract art: The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting and Abstract Art Against Autonomy: Infection, Resistance, and Cure since the 60s.

This work is included in François-Marc Gagnon's online catalogue raisonné on the artist's work at www.borduas.concordia.ca/en/about/index.php, catalogue #2005-0129.

1. Lora Senechal Carney, Canadian Painters in a Modern World, 1925 - 1955: Writings and Reconsiderations (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017), 211.

For the biography on Joan Stewart Clarke in PDF format please click here.

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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