Artwork by Jacques Godefroy de Tonnancour,  Échos et vestiges de l’âge de bronze #7

Jacques D. Tonnancour
Échos et vestiges de l’âge de bronze #7

mixed media on board
signed, titled and dated 1975 on the reverse
24 x 24 ins ( 61 x 61 cms )

Auction Estimate: $7,000.00$5,000.00 - $7,000.00

Price Realized $5,750.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2016

Marlborough Godard, Toronto/Montreal
Private Collection, Nova Scotia
A Montreal native, Jacques de Tonnancour had an early interest in drawing, particularly in illustrating nature. When choosing a career, he was torn between entomology and art. Ultimately, he enrolled at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal in 1937, though he abandoned his studies three years later, deeming the school too conservative. De Tonnancour’s early paintings were influenced by The Group of Seven and Goodridge Roberts, but after a trip to Brazil in the mid-1940s he shifted to portraits and still lifes with a more abstract approach, inspired by Picasso and Matisse. Completely non-representational images appeared in the early 1960s. “Échos et vestiges de l’âge de bronze #7,” (1975) exemplifies de Tonnancour’s experimental phase in his mature abstract works. He worked in collage and other mixed media, and developed “squeegee”, “hieroglyphics”, and “painting-writing” techniques. As the title suggests, this mixed-media painting presents abstract shapes that evoke remnants and artefacts from a prehistoric era. The shapes are depicted in a way as if one is viewing them through a microscope; this examinational approach may be foretelling of de Tonnancour’s decision to retire from painting in 1982 in order to photograph and collect insects.

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Jacques Godefroy de Tonnancour
(1917 - 2005) RCA, Order of Canada, ARCA

Jacques Godefroy de Tonnancour was one of the most important Quebec and Canadian contemporary painters. Born in Montreal, Quebec, he had an early interest in drawing. He found it difficult to choose between entomology and art as a career when he was 18. Although largely self taught he entered l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Montreal in 1938 where he studied for three years until he rebelled against what he felt was “very academic teaching”. The tree, until 1962, had been an important source of subject matter for him, and his work was discussed and widely reproduced in magazines, books, periodicals, newspapers, and on calendars. Unlike many landscape painters he seldom painted on the spot excepting for the year he spent in Rio de Janeiro on a Brazilian government scholarship, 1945-6.

From his early works in Laurentian landscapes, he evolved into an abstract style influenced by his friends Alfred Pellan, Paul-Emile Borduas, and Goodridge Roberts. His manifesto, Prisme d'yeux, was published in 1948 with Pellan's support; it diverged from the influential Refus global, published around the same time.

His stylistic development is perhaps best explained by the brief summary of the Vancouver Art Gallery catalogue for his retrospective exhibition in January, 1966, as follows: first his figure studies were influenced by Picasso and his landscapes by Goodridge Roberts (1940-45); then he worked directly from nature and abstracted plastic intensity from the physical universe (1945-6); next he concentrated on still life themes and figure studies under the influence of Picasso and Matisse (1946-50); by this time he felt too strongly influenced by Picasso and Matisse and stopped painting in 1950 almost completely until 1955 with the exception of a dozen or so canvases; then he was very prolific and developed expansive, spidery landscapes (one was exhibited at the 1958 Venice Biennial) 1955-59; then he reduced his landscapes to simple planes of sky, and earth, against which he superimposed calligraphic trees smaller and more distant in setting (1958-9); by the end of 1959 he had simplified his landscapes further by using a squeegee, which allowed further abstraction and reduction of his planular structure; a new phase of his work began when he started pressing paper onto the painted surface and lifting it off to achieve an impersonal pulled effect in 1962. He continued to develop new methods and to work with new materials. He sometimes spent six months on the one canvas, painting in the mornings and teaching in the afternoons.

He was the Canadian delegate to a UNESCO conference in Florence in 1950. He taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and at UQAM after the Ecole became part of it, from 1969 to 1982. He was awarded a medal by the Canada Council in 1968, became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979), won the Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste Philippe-Hebert medal in 1980, and was made an Officer of the Ordre du Quebec in 1993. He has received honorary degrees from McGill and Concordia universities, and is a professor emeritus of UQAM.

After 1981, he moved away from the art world to undertake the study of insects, a childhood interest, and published a book, “Les insectes: monstres ou splendeurs cachees”, in 2002; it won the Prix Marcel-Couture. He lived at St. Lambert, Quebec, near Montreal.

Sources: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977;