Pierre Gauvreau

Image © Copyright Estate of Pierre Gauvreau / SODRAC (2015)
Baie d’esprit
Oil on plywood, 1944
66 x 85 cm, 26 x 33 ½ in.
• Gilles Corbeil, Montreal, purchased directly from the artist ca. 1947.
• Prominent Toronto Collection.
• Trente-trois tableaux de Pierre Gauvreau, 75 Sherbrooke St. W., Nov. 15 – 30, 1947
• Tableaux et sculptures (second Automatiste exhibition), 75 Sherbrooke St. W., apartment 5, Montreal, Feb. 15 – Mar. 1, 1947.
• The Urge to Abstraction,Varley Art Gallery, Unionville, Sept. 15 – Nov. 11, 2007.
• The Automatiste Revolution: Montreal 1941-1960, Varley Art Gallery, Unionville : Oct. 21st. 2009 – Feb. 28th. 2010, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo :
Mar. 19th – May 30th. 2010.
• The Automatiste Revolution: Montreal 1941-1960, Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton : June 23rd. – Oct. 14th. 2012, The Prairie Art Gallery, Grande Prairie, Alberta :
Feb. 15th. – May 12th. 2013, Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan :
June 14th. – Sept. 15th. 2013.
• Art Gallery of Ontario, 2014.
• Chronique du mouvement automatiste québécois 1941-1954, 1998, p. 263,391.
• Les Femmes Du Refus Global, Patricia Smart, 1998, illustrated p. 73
• Photographies de Maurice Perron, Mémoire objective, mémoire collective. Musée du Québec,1998, p.52 illustrated p. 53.
• Total Refusal (Refus global), Exile Editions, Toronto, 1998, illustrated p.19.
• Le jeune homme en colere, Lanctôt, Quebec, 2003, p. 397, illustrated in situ,
between, p. 160 – 161.
• The Automatiste Revolution: Montreal 1941 – 1960, R. Nasgaard and R. Ellenwood, Douglas & McIntyre, 2009, p. 21, 23, 571 and colour plate #7.
• Pierre Gauvreau: passeur de modernité, Québec, Musée de la civilisation et Fides, 2013, illustrated p. 35.
• Égrégore. Une histoire du mouvement automatiste de Montréal,
Ray Ellenwood, 2014, illustrated in situ p. 98.
Pierre the born painter. The most serene revolutionary
painter possible. Dawn or setting sun.
In a corner of a cool shade, I see the tranquil dance
of familiar ghosts against a fiery sky. Relaxation in the
unexpected oasis. The unforeseen order of a new world
in the embittered old age of the one around us.
—Paul‑Émile Borduas, Indiscrétion
This quote by Paul‑Émile Borduas, from a
document titled Indiscrétion, in which the artist
describes his followers in “short poetic notes,” applies
perfectly to the work before us. Baie d’esprit was part
of the genesis of the Automatistes movement, and,
by extension, the Refus Global (1948). An indisputable
masterpiece, it forms part of one the most effervescent
periods in the history of art in Quebec. Here is the
ultimate opportunity to acquire a piece of this history, to
augment one’s collection with a remarkable, rare work.
The manifesto’s future signatories developed
their thinking amidst lively discussions at their leader
Borduas’s studio and around a crackling fire at a farmhouse
in Saint‑Hilaire, near the mythic painter’s home.
As thought comes through practice, the movement
organized itself around debates and work sessions
in the studio; thus, the Montreal group readied itself
to transform the art world, already on the eve of a
modern revolution.
In 1947, the group of artists that would become known
as the Automatistes held its second exhibition in the
Gauvreau family apartment, at 75 Sherbrooke Street West.
Shortly after this exhibition, in fact, the group was designated
for the first time as “Automatistes,” in an exhibition
review by Tancrède Marsil for the newspaper Le Quartier
Latin. Baie d’esprit was exhibited again in November that
same year, at the same Sherbrook Street location, this
time with thirty‑three other works in a solo exhibition
devoted to Gauvreau. As Thérèse Renaud recalls, everything
suggests that the summer retreat in Saint‑Hilaire,
in 1944, furnished the necessary inspiration for this work:
For me, everything began in the summer of ’44.
We’d rented a big farmhouse in Saint‑Hilaire
so that we could spend our summer holidays
not far from Paul‑Émile Borduas. There
was Françoise Sullivan, Mimi Lalonde, Louise
and Jeanne Renaud, Pierre Gauvreau, Bruno
Cormier, Fernand Leduc. Other friends came to
join our group from time to time but, with the
exception of Suzanne and Guy Viau who were
on our wavelength (without sharing our opinions
on religion, however), these passing comrades
didn’t think the way we did.
This notably select group may remind us somewhat
of that baie d’esprit (Spirit Bay) to which Gauvreau’s
painting refers. A silhouette with arms raised—Borduas,
perhaps?—appears to preach to several of the elect,
seated in a circle. In their midst, a cross within an
ovoid shape suggests a campfire or some ashes. In the
distance, great valleys and an enchanted forest crown this
surreal landscape. This “spirit bay” may well have been
inspired by one of those Mont Saint‑Hilaire nights. In any
event, it remained a key work throughout the painter’s
career, including his later work as a screenwriter and
director; even his television drama, Cormoran (1990-93),
was graced by a fictional village named Baie‑d’Esprit.
The artist’s 1947 solo exhibition would draw extensive
press coverage, which permitted the group—through
interviews with Gauvreau—to assert its vision and ethics.
From this moment, an outline of the manifesto emerged.
Gauvreau was only twenty‑two when his work first drew
attention; but Borduas had already spotted the young
artist’s talent in 1941, whilst serving on a jury for a group
exhibition at the Théâtre Gésu. He rewarded the young
artist with a first prize, amazed at the winning painting’s
“singular quality,” and a meeting with the virtuoso
student soon followed.
In The Automatiste Revolution, Roald Nasgaard
writes, “Of all the young artists, it was Pierre Gauvreau
who most closely followed Borduas’s painting methods,
as evidenced in the early Colloque exubérant (Exuberant
Conversation), 1944, and Baie d’esprit (Spirit Bay), 1944,
in which, as Borduas was doing at the time, he divides
foreground and background. Gauvreau’s pictorial backgrounds
are abstracted landscapes that both stretch
toward far‑off horizons and tilt upward to form backdrops
in front of which he deploys an array of strange creatures
and flora and fauna with mythic overtones and atavistic
remoteness. They seem born out of doodling, flavoured
with a wry sense of Surrealist humour and an invigorating
childlike freshness.”