“I paint because I like to paint. I do not rely on any theory. In the landscapes and characters I paint, I have tried to express the loneliness we all experience, and in each painting, the interior universe of my memories. The external environment interests me only to the extent that it provides me with an excuse to paint my inner world. (Jean Paul Lemieux, 1967)
Born one hundred and fifteen years ago, Jean-Paul Lemieux (1904-1990) has, during his long and illustrious career, distinguished himself as one of the best tellers of Quebec’s popular culture.
His characters are associated with an image of a not-so-distant past and, above all, his conception of Quebec’s vast wild and urban spaces are imbued with a lyricism and a mystery inseparable from the very nature of the artist.
Lemieux studied at the Montreal School of Fine Arts from 1926 to 1929, where he demonstrated a great talent for illustration. After graduating, he spent a year in Paris and studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the Académie Colarossi. From 1931 to 1935, he returned to the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal to obtain his teaching diploma, a profession he held from 1937 to 1967 at the École des Beaux-Arts in Québec, his hometown. .
During the thirties, Lemieux painted the mountainous terrain of the county of Charlevoix in the Lower St. Lawrence and, in the early 1940s, he produced satirical paintings of urban and rural life. In 1955, after a year spent in France, Lemieux took a more conceptual and constructed approach to the composition of his landscapes, whose characters often seem stiff and motionless. In the seventies, the haunting silence and discomfort that emerges from these paintings takes the form of frightening visions of ruined cities, wiped out by nuclear attacks.
The late 1960s saw him consecrated as a vital artist in Quebec and Canada. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1969, and in the same year, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presented a first retrospective of the works of the artist already considered an institution.
In 1990, the Musée du Québec, now the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec,puts together a major retrospective of Lemieux’s works, but the painter dies at the age of eighty-six, just before the opening of the exhibition.
Already seeked out since the early 1930s to illustrate different books, it is during the 1970s and 1980s that Lemieux stands out most at this level.
In 1971, he illustrated a flagship piece of Quebec literature, “La Petite Poule d’Eau” by Gabrielle Roy. This luxurious edition contains twenty prints from original works by Jean-Paul Lemieux and an original drawing by the artist.
In her second novel published in 1950, Gabrielle Roy generates a breeze of literary freshness. It addresses the themes of solidarity and the quest for an ideal world through the history of Tousignant, a family living in remote areas of northern Manitoba.
Gabrielle Roy was inspired by a month-long stay in this wilderness area known as Poule-d’Eau in northern Manitoba, where she acted as a teacher in the summer of 1937 just before her first trip to Europe. The novel, published in Montreal thirteen years later, is divided into three distinct, but implicitly related, parts, which make it possible to follow the path of the Tousignant family. In “The Little Water Hen”, Gabrielle Roy evokes themes – nature, childhood and education – which will come back frequently in her work.
The ideal marriage between Gabrielle Roy’s soft and poetic writing and the artist’s evanescent and mysterious images combine to express a particular sensitivity, with Lemieux’s painting completing Roy’s writing and vice versa.
The artistic approach suggested by this edition, originally published by Éditions Gilles Corbeil, will inspire Alain Stanké who, thanks to the complicity he cultivates with Denis Beauchamp of the Multi Art Ltée agency, for the publication of a major edition that will become a landmark.
Indeed, at the dawn of the 1980s, the project of marrying the pictorial work of Lemieux to one of the most important stories of Quebec literature takes shape in the minds of two friends who want to pay tribute to two of the most important representatives of a certain Quebec culture.
Written by French born Louis Hémon (1880-1913) and published in the same year of the author’s death, Maria Chapdelaine will quickly become one of the very symbols of life in Quebec at a time that was already almost over at the time of publishing.
Hémon, offers a very simple telling of a love story almost silent, in the background of the life of a family in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. Beyond the banal, minimalist aspect, voluntarily reduced to the terrestrial aspect, this text possesses a grandeur and a poetic breath that almost calls out for the contribution of the work of Lemieux who is already the great visual poet of the same spaces and local people.
The pictorial version of the book perfectly reflects the spirit of the novel. The emptiness of open spaces, the apparent simplicity of history and characters, the symbols of a certain life in a remote region; the works of Lemieux seem to perfectly fit the themes conveyed in Hémon’s book. What is more striking, and here a thorough knowledge of the work of the French author becomes essential, is the poetic synergy that operates between the images of Lemieux and the imagination of Hémon.
The latter, although stranger to the Quebec psyche, was able to understand and express a reality that is apparent in all of Jean-Paul Lemieux’s work. There floats an air of melancholy nostalgia that is everywhere in the work of the painter. Notwithstanding the intrinsic plastic qualities of his work, Lemieux’s story will be a chronicler of a certain way of life that, in a way, will also fit with Louis Hémon’s historical image.
It is therefore in the deep understanding of this reality that Alain Stanké, himself a Quebecer by adoption, and Denis Beauchamp took this homage to the two giants of Quebec culture.
In order to offer as many people as possible the opportunity to take advantage of what was to stand out as an event in both the art and publishing circles, the partners decided to publish different versions of the collection of ten prints.
For the “general public” market, they offer a book with 5,000 copies, all numbered and sold for $ 75.00.
A “grand-luxe” edition, limited to 125 copies and whose format respects the original paintings (46cmX58cm) is also offered at the introductory price of $ 5,000.00, which will then increase to $ 6,000.00 making this book the most expensive ever published in Canada at the time.
In 2018, the auction results for a complete collection are equally impressive. Indeed, some boxes were auctioned off for large sums which is still exceptional for reproductions.
Obviously, we are talking here about a piece of Quebec history and it is difficult to put a price on history. That being said, it is a striking example of the value of “serious” art in a difficult market and an excellent reason to believe in the value of art as an investment.
Over the past decade, Lemieux’s original works have reached unsuspected heights at auction, with some paintings such as “1910 Remember” reaching $ 2,000,000 in 2011!
As representatives and influencers of the art world, galleries, agents and publishers make it a point of honor to identify the artists and trends that will mark their time. Obviously, this task is increasingly difficult and unpredictable but thanks to the experience and flair acquired over the years and decades, it is always possible to reflect the historical reality of art, to take into account its value while keeping in mind a cultural and educational mission.