Paul-Émile Borduas

Patte de velours, 1955

oil on canvas
36x30 in.
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signed and dated ’55 lower right

Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist’s studio by G. Blair Laing, Ma y 15, 1958, Paris;
Private collection, Toronto;
Sale of Heffel Fine Art, Fine Canadian Art, Nov. 24, 2005;
Private collection

Literature
Francois Marc-Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas, 1978, listed p. 445

 

Paul-Émile Borduas was one of the most important figures in Canadian modern art. He began to experiment with Surrealism in the early 1940s, creating non-representational works in gouache. His first exhibition of them in 1942 was well-received. As his interest in pure painterly abstraction grew, he gathered a group of like-minded fellow artists around him including, amoung others, Jean Paul Riopelle, Marcel Barbeau, Pierre Gauvreau, Fernand Leduc, Jean-Paul Mousseau, Marcelle Ferron, and dancer Françoise Sullivan. Together, they began the Automatiste movement with Borduas as their leader and the driving author behind their 1948 manifesto. Borduas’s desire to separate church from state, especially in the arts, was highly politicized and cost him his job as a teacher. He was widely denounced and ostracized within his community. However, the spark had been lit, and the Automatistes Refus Global marked the dawn of the Quiet Revolution.

In 1953, Borduas moved to New York, where he saw the works of Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Pollock in particular resonated with him, and he started to execute his own works with a palette knife instead of a brush. By 1954, he was represented in the Venice Biennale. The following year, the year Patte de Velours was painted, he showed at the prestigious Bienale de São Paulo.

Patte de Velours, which translates to Velvet Paws, is a lovely title for a beautiful work. Borduas’s skill with white, and his liberal use of it, gives his works a refined, luxurious quality. A pure, reactive, instinctive abstraction, Patte de Velours is about movement, colour and liberation, as seems to embody a passage from the Refus Global, wherein the painting is “freed from useless chains, …realize[s] a plenitude of individual gifts, …unpredictability, spontaneity and resplendent anarchy.” Borduas had moved to Paris by the year this work was painted, a time when he was very interest in the ideas of light and space. His works from this time are highly sought, their sense of airy spaciousness seems to incline viewers to lean in, take a deep breath and gaze.

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