The Proust Questionnaire: Rita Letendre
The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.
Photo © Annelies Vogel, 2013
Rita Letendre (1928– ) is one of Canada’s best-known Abstract Expressionists. Her works, ranging from small pastel sketches to painted murals, often feature a strong sense of movement and bold slashes of colour.
Born in Drummondville, Quebec, Letendre moved with her family to Montreal in 1941, later enrolling in Montreal’s École des beaux-arts. A year into her studies, she discovered Paul-Émile Borduas and the Automatistes and left school, spending most of the 1950s working and exhibiting with the avant-garde group.
Letendre would ultimately find her niche in Abstract Expressionism. By the 1960s, she had earned an international reputation, and was exhibiting in Montreal, New York and at the National Gallery of Canada, which has several of her works in its collection.
Over the past four decades, Letendre’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions around the world. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and has received the Order of Quebec as well as a Governor General’s Visual Arts Award and a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She currently lives in Toronto.
Your earliest memory of art:
Borrowing art books from the library, and trying to reproduce the paintings.
When you knew this would become your vocation:
After meeting Borduas.
Your greatest influence:
Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):
Favourite pastime (other than art):
It used to be running, but now it is reading.
Depends on what painting I am looking at.
Favourite writer and musician/composer:
Stephen Hawking; Wagner.
Favourite colour, flower and bird:
Colour depends on my mood. Flower: Phalaenopsis [Moth Orchid]. Bird: falcon.
Favourite food and drink:
Wine, espresso, and all kinds of cheese.
Favourite smell and sound:
Good food, good music.
A ball that I can hold in my hand.
Favourite environment or landscape:
Favourite weather or season:
Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:
Mystère et boule de gomme [Colloquially translated as “Magic and mystery”] (said when something absurd, unexplainable or out of the ordinary happens).
Ask my friends.
Ask my friends.
Your definition of happiness:
To be with someone you love.
Ideal place to live:
By the seashore, as long as it’s hot!
A recurring dream:
To see well again.
Aspirations before you die:
Make meaningful paintings.
To me art is:
A means to communicate.
Click here to view works by Rita Letendre housed in the National Gallery of Canada's permanent collection.