Artwork by Jean Albert McEwen,  Les fiançailles no. 5

Jean McEwen
Les fiançailles no. 5

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1976 lower right; signed, titled and dated on the reverse
72 x 72 ins ( 182.9 x 182.9 cms )

Sold for $88,500.00
Sale date: May 29th 2018

Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
The Collection of TransCanada PipeLines Limited, Calgary
Jean McEwen: Colour in Depth, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, December 1987 - January 1988
Constance Naubert-Riser, Jean McEwen: Colour in Depth, paintings and works on paper, 1951-1987, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1987, pages 37-39 and 46-49, reproduced page 111
The monumental painting “Les Fiançailles No. 5” constitutes an example of Jean McEwen’s mature work that reference a previous theme of monochromatic white canvases in 1955-56. Art historian Constance Naubert-Riser remarks that “the development of [McEwen’s] painting does not follow a linear model, but rather a circular one.” What distinguishes this series from past ones is the particular opalescent quality of the white. The examination of the opalescence of white is the object of the “Les Fiançailles” series as well as two other series - “Temple heureux” and “Epithalames”. These three series, which translate to “The Betrothal”, “Temple of Bliss” and “Epithalamiums”, make reference in their titles and white palette to McEwen’s second marriage in 1976. During these later years, the artist’s titles often linked to particular events that occurred at the time the works were executed. In this case, Naubert-Riser writes that “the verbal image is no longer based on pictorial elements common to the series, but evokes - discreetly and poetically - an event of recollection.”

Jean McEwen wanted his abstract paintings to be a sensory experience for the viewer. McEwen was so preoccupied by the realm of pure sensation that “he felt no need to burden his paintings with transcendental meaning.” His canvases are layered with translucent and opaque colour, achieving textural effects resulting from the varying thicknesses of the pictorial surface. Important works such as “Les Fiançailles No. 5” contain “effects of depth that push the possibilities offered by the medium to their very limits.”

Dappled with grey and white oil paint in varying opacities, the alluring canvas of “Les Fiançailles No. 5” evokes McEwen’s signature effects of dramatic depth. The painting is structured with more opaque bands of white along the left and right edges, and a soft band of yellow along the lower edge. These areas frame the composition and create an optical entryway into the seemingly infinite depths of the artwork.

“Les Fiançailles No. 5” was featured in a major retrospective of McEwen’s work, Jean McEwen: Colour in Depth, held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from December 1987 to January 1988, curated by Constance Naubert-Riser, professor of Art History at the University of Montreal.

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Jean Albert McEwen
(1923 - 1999) RCA

Jean McEwen was born in Montreal in 1923. While growing up he was intrigued by painting and the qualities of colour, but did not pursue any formal art training. Instead he studied Pharmacy at the University of Montreal in 1951. After seeing the film “The Moon and Sixpence” based on the Somerset Maughan novel about the life and work of Paul Gauguin, he was influenced to pursue painting while completing his Pharmacy degree.

A painting that he submitted to the 66th Annual Spring Salon at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art was accepted, after which a friendship with Paul-Emile Borduas began. Borduas encouraged him to travel to Paris. He spent three years in Paris where he formed associations with Jean-Paul Riopelle and American artist Sam Francis.

His long and successful career includes a teaching position at Concordia University, Montreal as well as numerous solo exhibitions. His work is a part of public and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.