National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 12 (VI:2), 1968

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Borduas: Sous le vent de l'île

by Bernard Teyssedre

Article en français


The large painting Sous le vent de l'île (Wind over the Island) by Paul-Émile Borduas, in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, is a milestone in the artist's production and should be dated to January 1947. This dating is supported by evidence contained in a photograph taken at the time of the automatists' exhibition at the Montreal home of Pierre Gauvreau early in 1947, and in a criticism of the exhibition that appeared in Le Quartier Latin.

Borduas's evolution towards abstraction, from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts' Nature morte (Still Life) of 1941 to the gouaches of 1942 and the oils of 1943, is striking. There is then a return to figurative work in 1945, illustrated by Poisson rouge (Red Fish) and Léda, le cygne et le serpent (Leda, the Swan and the Serpent). He thus comes back to earth and regains strength. He experiments with a new technique which will later bring him to the use of the palette-knife, as in Éternelle Amérique (Obsessive America). However, it is later still, after Carquois fleuris (Quivers in Bloom) and Parachutes végétaux (Suspended Algae), that he arrives at Sous le vent de l'île.

This canvas ideally exemplifies his concern for a painting that presents "an object upon a background that extends to infinity." Reminiscences of figurative or narrative elements have almost disappeared, the background has become lighter, the baroque composition has given way to a more classical organization. It was in January 1947 also that Borduas refused an invitation from André Breton to exhibit at the Galerie Maeght in Paris. He believed that he should no longer identify himself with the surrealists, and this differentiates him from other members of the automatist group, namely J. P. Riopelle and Marcel Barbeau.

It is evident today that Wind over the Island can be regarded as the earliest prediction of the more classical space-light paintings of his Paris period.

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