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Jean-Paul Lemieux

View Jean-Paul Lemieux's Gallery


1904 - 1990

Born in Quebec City, his parents were originally from that region. His father was with the Greenshields Company for many years and later became agent for the Regent Knitting Mills. They lived in Quebec City until Jean Paul was eleven. During those years they spent their summers near Montmorency Falls and Kent House which had been built in 1784 by the Governor General of Lower Canada, General Halimand. Later Kent House became a hotel where in 1914 Jean Paul met an American painter named Parnell. Parnell had a studio in the hotel where he painted large murals for its decoration. After many hours watching Parnell, Jean Paul began to sketch on his own.

In 1916 the Lemieux family moved to Berkeley, California. His sister had been suffering from rheumatism and the dry warm climate helped her through a difficult period. There he studied with the Brothers of the Christian Schools. During his summer holidays he travelled through California with his family. In 1917 the Lemieuxs returned to Canada and settled in Montreal where the boy attended College Mont-Saint-Louis (two years) and later Loyola College.

Having finally decided to become an artist, he enrolled in l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Montreal, in 1926, and spent the next three years studying under Charles Maillard, Edwin Holgate, Maurice Felix and others. In 1929 he travelled to Europe with his mother and in Paris he studied advertising art under a Mr. Seltz of the Dorland Publicity Firm. He also followed courses at la Grande Chaumiere and the Colarossi. It was in Paris that he met Clarence Gagnon who was then working on his illustrations for Maria Chapdelaine. Lemieux lived in the Montparnasse district of Paris and frequented the terrasse du Dome where he met his artistic colleagues.

He returned to Montreal in 1930 where he set up a commercial art studio with Jean Palardy and other associates but after six months, with the country in depression, they were not able to see their way clear and the studio closed. He went to California where he sketched and painted, then returned to Montreal and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he received his diploma in 1934. He was awarded Second Prize in the Brymner Competition at the Art Association of Montreal. He stayed on at the Beaux Arts in Montreal as teacher. In 1935 he moved to the Ecole du Meuble where he continued to teach drawing and painting.

He became a frequent visitor to the studio of Edwin Holgate, a former teacher. Through his admiration for Holgate's work his own landscapes like "Paysage en Charlevoix" (Coll. M. Jean-Marie Gauvreau, Mtl.) bear an affinity to Holgate's paintings. Both men were interested in portrait and figure work and during this period Lemieux did some fine studies of Madeleine Desrosiers like "Tete", a pencil drawing (Coll. artist) and a portrait of her in oils (Coll. artist), both of which have been reproduced in catalogues and books.

In 1937 he moved to Quebec where he resumed his teaching career at l'Ecole des Beaux Arts de Quebec. It was in this year that he married Madeleine Desrosiers. They had met at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Montreal and he exhibited with her at the Chez Morency in Quebec City in 1938. His teaching post at l'Ecole du Meuble was then filled by Paul Emile Borduas. It was Lemieux who introduced Borduas to Alfred Pellan in 1940.

In general, Lemieux's paintings up until 1940 were derived from a realistic and decorative style. As with many artists the influence of Cezanne also played an important role in his early work, but he was to leave this behind by the beginning of the 1940's. A complete change in his work was evident for instance in the large canvas "Lazare" which he painted in 1941. This widely reproduced work owned by the Art Gallery of Ontario is an allegorical work which seems to depict isolationism of old Quebec during the period of the Second World War (the War depicted in the upper left hand corner of the canvas). The painting is roughly divided diagonally from the upper right hand corner to the lower left by the border of Quebec. The Province is depicted by a cutaway view of a church in which a priest imparts a sermon on Lazarus to his congregation. In the upper right hand corner of the painting Lazarus is seen to be brought back to life by a gentle Christ in modern clothes while an astonished gravedigger witnesses the miracle. A winding country road leading to the graveyard bears a funeral procession of an early period horse drawn hurse. A raven sits on a lower right hand corner wall of the church perhaps to forewarn of the impending change of old Quebec under the 'Quiet Revolution'8. Lemieux seems to infer by the drifting war clouds of the 20th Century that his beloved province will be caught up in the impending events of the present. Could the funeral procession be that of old Quebec? A remarkable reproduction of this painting can be found in the book Great Canadian Painting, works selected by Elizabeth Kilbourn and Frank Newfeld. Discussion of the same painting can be found in Guy Robert's book Jean-Paul Lemieux.

Other of his allegories are more direct with a lesser degree of symbolism like "Etude pour Emmaus", "Etude pour la Fete-Dieu", "Les Disciples d'Emmaus" and others. Describing his work of this period Dr. Marius Barbeau explained, "No other method and technique than that of primitive or folk imagery could be more appropriate and fruitful. The spirit and naivete of those images furnish a clue to much of Lemieux's later work as a painter. Under a peculiar light Lemieux looks at the people, in town, convent or country, and exposes their activities and strivings. When down the river he spends a summer vacation, he responds to the good humour of the pioneers in the midst of stumps and poverty; he catches them on the fling, as it were, posing for him in the manner of bourgeois, whose daguerreotypes fill a family album."

By 1951 a new and simplified style of almost cubist structure was to herald a dramatic change in his work. Also in 1951 he won first prize in the Quebec Painting Contest for his "Les Ursulines" (Coll. Quebec Prov. Museum) which shows a group of nuns sitting in a courtyard surrounded by houses. In this painting there is a great play of design of each of the elements that go to make up the whole. The rectangular shapes of the sides of the houses, the forms of the nuns themselves, the courtyard, even the wall along one side of the courtyard present almost an abstract composition. But Lemieux never goes beyond the highly simplified point. This work as well as others are reminiscent of the American painter Niles Spencer.

In 1954 Lemieux went to France on a Canada Council Scholarship but found little original inspiration. Everything he painted was reminiscent of Monet or Matisse. But when he returned to Canada a complete change in his work took place. By the 1960's Lemieux's paintings were mainly of quaint lonely figures in austere landscapes. These landscapes were made up of little more than a horizon line to suggest a division between earth and sky although each was of a different colour. Until recently he seldom painted blue skies. Often they would be amber as in a late summer day, or steel grey of an approaching storm. During an exhibition in Toronto in 1960 at the Roberts Gallery his work was described by the Globe & Mail as follows, "There is a haunting loneness and sense of space in his paintings of figures against far, flat land; of roads ending in a point of vision; of landscape bounded by a far city's skyline. His White Angel done last year has quality. It is not gay art but it is vastly communicative."

Lemieux once stated, "I have no theories, and like everyone else who paints, I am never satisfied with my work. I am especially interested in conveying the solitude of man and the ever-flowing passing of time. I try to express in my landscapes and my figures this solitude, this silence in which we all move ... in every new painting my inner world of recollections. The physical world around me interests me only because it allows me to picture my inner self." To Patrick Nagle" he said "I'm not a landscape painter. Don't call me that. I like painting figures too much. When I get tired of landscapes I paint figures. I never use models; I couldn't. I try to convey a remembrance, the feeling of generations. I sometimes see myself as the central figure, but as a child in the continuity of generations. I like the feeling of summer in the old days, the feeling of old newsreels or photographs. You get the feeling of fading away."

In 1965 when his solo show opened at the Agnes Lefort Gallery, Robert Ayre remarked, "it says something about the state of Canadian art that people should queue up during a painter's lifetime to buy his work. This is what happened to Jean Paul Lemieux of Quebec at the opening of his one-man show at Galerie Agnes Lefort. More than an hour and a half before the doors were unlocked, the crowds had begun to gather outside, some of the collectors supplied with books to while away the time, for all the world like fans waiting for hockey tickets or rush seats to the opera. When they gained admittance, they made a scramble for the paintings, quickly filling up the galleries so that you could hardly see pictures for people and in 15 minutes they were all reserved....The subject of all the excitement is a quiet man, both as person and painter, who is so little interested in the limelight that he didn't come to Montreal to see his show hung, and avoided the crush of the opening. He has always gone his own way, untouched by the changing fashions of painting, from the automatist to the optical, and one of the reasons for the driving demand for his work is the short supply, he is not prolific. Most of the works in his last show here....were lent from private collections."

Lemieux retired from his teaching post at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1965 after twenty-eight years association with the school. In 1990 he died at the age of 86 in Montreal, Quebec.

-Colin S. Macdonald, Dictionary of Canadian Artists

Awards and Accomplishments

He was honoured by Montreal Museum of Fine Arts by a retrospective exhibition in the fall of 1967. This show of 108 works was then exhibited at the Musee du Quebec and the National Gallery of Canada.
In 1968 he was honoured with the Companion of the Order of Canada.
He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy (A.R.C.A., 1951) (R.C.A., 1956).

His paintings are in the following public and private collections:
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Art Gallery of Ontario, Tor., Ont.
Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ont.
London Public Library and Art Museum, Ont.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, P.Q.
Musee du Quebec, Quebec, P.Q.
Royal Bank of Canada, Tor., Ont.
Hart House, Univ. of Tor., Toronto, Ont.
private collections of:
H.M. Queen Elizabeth; Son Excellence M. Jules Leger, Paris, France; Mr. & Mrs. Robert Ayre, Mtl. P.Q.; Mr. R.S. Bennett, Mtl., P.Q.; M. Henri-Pierre Bourque, Lucerne, P.Q.; Dr. & Mrs. Marcel Carbotte, Que., P.Q.; Dr. Yvon Chartrand, Mtl., P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. Willie Chevalier, Mtl., P.Q.; Andree & Maurice Corbeil Coll., Mtl., P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. Dagenais-Perusse, Mtl., P.Q.; Mrs. Frank Endean, Tor., Ont.; Mrs. Francoise Faucher, Mtl., P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. Fraser M. Bell, Don Mills, Ont.; Mr. Germain Gauthier, Sillery, Que.; Mr, Jean-Marie Gauvreau, Mtl., P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. Amedee Geoffrion, Mtl., P.Q.; Miss Diane Giguere, M ., P.Q.; Mrs. Mira Godard, Mtl., P.Q.; Mr. Camille-R. Hebert, Mtl., P.Q., Mr. R.M. Hogarth, Willowdale, Ont.; Mr. Stephen Jarislowsky, Mtl., P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. Geo. P. Kidd, Wash., D.C.; Mr. & Mrs. W. S. Kirkpatrick, Mtl., Mr. Luc Lacourciere, Beaumont, P.Q.; Mr. Jean-C. Lallemand, Mtl., P.Q.; Miss Jeanne Lapointe, Que., P.Q.; Mr, & Mrs. Jack Lazare, Beaconsfield, P.Q.; Mrs. Jean Leahy, Que., P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. J. Gordon Littlejohn, Tor., Ont.; Mr. & Mrs. Jules Loeb, Hull, P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. C.W. McConnell, Mtl, P.Q.; Mr. James Maxwell, Mtl., P.Q.; Mr. Edmund Meredith, Tor., Ont.; Mr. & Mrs. J.H. Moore, London, Ont.; Mrs. H.B. Norris, Mtl., P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. Gordon E. Pfeiffer, Rosemere, P.Q.; Mr. Yves Pratte, Sfllery, P.Q.; Mr. Louis Rasminsky, Ottawa, Ont.; Dr. A. Ritchie, Tor., Ont.; Mr. Hubert Rogeau, Sherbrooke, P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. J.M. Scott, MtI., P.Q.; Mr. & Mrs. Wm. Sofm, Mtl.,

Other Information

Category: Historical Canadian Art


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