Artwork by Rita Letendre,  L’Enchenteur

Rita Letendre

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1960 lower left; signed, titled and dated 1960 on the reverse
14 x 16 ins ( 35.6 x 40.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $18,000.00$15,000.00 - $18,000.00

Price Realized $17,250.00
Sale date: May 25th 2017

Private Collection, Calgary
Roald Nasgaard and Ray Ellenwood, Automatiste Revolution: Montreal, 1941-1960, Toronto, 2009, page 79
Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, Toronto, 2007, page 174
Favouring a heavy application of paint with her early canvas works, Letendre oscillated between the palette knife and brush application of paint. A variety of textures was central to completed works with a mixture of sculptural areas of dimensional paint and smooth strokes. Exploration of the tactility of the medium, the importance of sharp contrast, and light and energy to evoke intense compositions, was integral of Letendre's work in the 1960s.

“L'Enchenteur” exemplifies the artist's commitment to dark tonalities sharply contrasted with light pigments to incite energy. This work at first presents a more subtle contrast between the dark brown and black pigments, however, upon further inspection, bright streaks of fiery orange and yellow seen at the lower edge of the composition begin to play off of the bright cobalt blue hues at the upper edge of the work. Balancing between these contrasting colours, two intentionally applied central forms of white over top of the black band of pigment anchor the composition. On Letendre's technique, Roald Nasgaard writes that this contrast is “deployed with dramatic expressiveness but occluding most vestiges of Automatiste illusionism.” In this sense, Letendre carved a unique space of her own in both the dialogue and representation of abstract art in Canada as a distinct and equal contributor to the discourse.

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Rita Letendre
(1928 - 2021) RCA

Canadian painter, muralist, and printmaker Rita Letendre was born in Drummondville, Quebec, in 1928. She is of Iroquois descent. Letendre and her parents moved to Montreal in 1941. She settled in Toronto in 1963. In part, Letendre is self-taught but she studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Montreal for year and a half. While in school she was introduced to the Automatistes due to pamphlets announcing the locations of their new paintings.

Encouraged by Borduas, Mosseau, and Ferron’s art, Letendre began exploring similar motifs in her paintings and began exhibiting with the group from 1952-55. In 1955 she exhibited in “Espace 1955” at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Sharing a studio with fellow Automatiste painter and sculptor, Ulysse Comtois, Letendre became the subject of an article by the Weekend Magazine on non-objective Montreal-based painters. Then, in 1959, Letendre was included in the Third Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Art. In the following year the National Gallery of Canada included Letendre in their Non-Figurative Artists of Montreal exhibit that traveled throughout Canada. In 1962, Letendre received a travelling grant from the Canada Council and traveled to Paris, Italy, Israel, Spain, Belgium, and Germany.

Using a variety of techniques and media such as brush, spatula, pastel, silkscreen, and airbrush, Letendre was a leading member of the colourist movement. Exhibited in over sixty-five solo exhibitions, Letendre’s work can be described in three distinct periods. Her first period, known as the Montreal years, was inspired by her first meeting with Borduas and was a rich exploration of self-discovery. Letendre’s second period was inspired by Russian-born sculptor Kosso Eloul, who later became her husband. Her final period was rooted in mourning and love.

Letendre’s works vary in size from grand murals that are sixty feet by sixty feet in size to small projects on silkscreen. These works are collected throughout the North American continent by governments and public and private galleries and organizations. Letendre’s work has been exhibited in Europe, Israel, Japan, and throughout North America in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

Literature Sources:
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979
Roumanes, Jacques-Bernard. “Rita Letendre: Le tableau ivre.” Vie des Arts 45, 183, 2001
Andersen, Marguerite. “Rita Letendre: Énergie et luminosité. L’art du féminin, 12 2004

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.