Mutineries tranquilles (Quiet mutinies)

Art in Quebec in the 1950's

Dalaire 350.jpg
Photo: Villa Bagatelle

Jean Dallaire, Southern village - 1958

Good things come in small packages they say.   Well, it's certainly true if we consider the small yet wonderful art exhibition in the intimate space of the Villa Bagatelle in Sillery. This selection of about 30 paintings and sculptures from the collection of the Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent take us back to the 1950's, to a turning point in the history of art in Quebec.  It was the decade following the 1948 «Refus Global», a manifest which dared stand up to the oppressive status quo of the time

The exhibition presents some transitional figurative works:  landscapes, a most preferred genre, stylised by Paul Vanier Beaulieu or hidden beneath a chromatic experience à la Delaunay by Jean Dallaire.  One can also see the influence of cubism in the still life of Henry Wanton Jones and the one painted by Edmund Alleyn who added a touch of japonism to a very personal interpretation of the world seen through a window.  Some of the sculptures in the exhibition also demonstrate this free interpretation of conventional subject matters such as the female figure or themes related to the environment as in the work of Armand Vaillancourt who can justly be considered one of the most influential figures of modern sculpture in Quebec. 

The real shock, at the time, was undoubtedly the non representational aspect of the movement in which the artists, disregarding the public's appreciation, ventured into the exploration of new aesthetic and intellectual terrains where expression could rely simply on lines, color, and non-referential forms.  Among them, however, artists such as Jean-Paul Jérôme or Robert de Repentigny (Jauran) were more concerned with creating stable compositions by going beyond the mere use of lines and colors into defining relationships between these elements of the picture.   They thus developed a controlled use of color fields, their visual impact, their dimensions and their arrangement on the flat canvas.  The «automatist» approach had thus given way to the use of more rational, more geometrical forms.

Although small in size and non exhaustive (Riopple is not represented), this exhibition shows that in no way can this revolution or drastic and rather sudden evolution be considered in a linear fashion.  In spite of the fact that Paul-Emile Borduas, the «leader of the pack» had a strong personality, one can appreciate the different approaches to painting manifest in the works of those who, with him, signed the Refus Global and their followers.  It also brings out the fact that such differences that have undoubtedly contributed to the richness of Canadian art in general.

Seen with 21st century eyes, such works may seem ordinary even old-fashioned but, placed back in the context of a society which some say was outside the mainstream of the urban-industrial way of life, we must realize the enormous risk that these artists took in wanting to free themselves from aesthetic, social, political and religious constraints and realize fully their individual talents «in necessary unpredictability, spontaneous and resplendent anarchy».

The show will last until May 17 and can be seen Wednesdays to Sundays from 11:00 AM to 5:00PM

Villa Bagatelle - 1563 ch. St-Louis, Québec, Québec, G1S 1G1
Telephone: 418 654-0259