Artwork by Jean Albert McEwen,  Rose traversant les jaunes

Jean McEwen
Rose traversant les jaunes

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1978 lower right; titled on the reverse
88 x 68 ins ( 223.5 x 172.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $35,000.00$25,000.00 - $35,000.00

Price Realized $88,500.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Marlborough Godard, Toronto/Montreal
Collection of TC Energy, Calgary
Jean McEwen, La profondeur de la couleur/Jean McEwen, Colour in Depth, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, December 11, 1987 - January 24, 1988, no. 63
Constance Naubert-Riser, Jean McEwen: Colour in Depth, paintings and works on paper, 1951-1987, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1987, pages 46-49, reproduced page 113
Jean McEwen’s titles of his mature canvases are 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.” “Roses traversant les jaunes” from the Suite parisienne references McEwen’s second sojourn in Paris.

In March 1977, he received the Victor Lynch-Staunton award from the Canada Council, given to artists judged to have made a particularly notable contribution to the arts. This grant enabled McEwen to work in Paris from September 1977 until June 1978. During May and June of 1978, he exhibited the colourful Suite parisienne series at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris. Shortly after his return to Canada, McEwen exhibited the same series at Toronto’s Mira Godard Gallery in March 1979.

In addition to his typical output of works on paper, he completed a sketchbook illustrated with watercolours in continuation of Suite parisienne, a series that proved to be a critical success as well as one that resonated with the artist for an extensive period of time. Important works such as Roses traversant les jaunes contain “effects of depth that push the possibilities offered by the medium to their very limits.” McEwen was so preoccupied by the realm of pure sensation that “he felt no need to burden his paintings with transcendental meaning.” The straightforward and descriptive title of the alluring canvas, “Roses traversant les jaunes” translates to shades of pink crossing through shades of yellow, evoking McEwen’s signature effects of dramatic depth.

“Roses traversant les jaunes” 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

Montreal-born painter Jean McEwen is most well-known for his abstracted paintings that focus on light and color relationships. Born in 1923, McEwen trained as a pharmacist at the University of Montreal and wrote poetry for Québec based literary journals, such as Gants du ciel. McEwen’s initial art career was inspired by a film, The Moon and Sixpence, which is based off of the life and work of Paul Gauguin. As a self-taught artist he was most interested in the feelings that paintings gave him and the exploration of color and light. While his paintings are abstract in nature, some may find that their eyes piece together imagery, such as water damage or ice-covered windows when viewing his works. During his lifetime his paintings toured the United States, Japan, Brazil, and throughout Canada.

McEwen was mentored by Automatiste artist, Paul Émilie Borduas in the early 1950s. At Borduas’ suggestion, McEwen traveled to Paris for a year where he was mentored by Jean Paul Piopelle. Together they traveled to Spain, Italy, Holland, and spent the summer in Brittany, France. After spending this time in Europe, he began working in a style that incorporated ideas from the French Impressionists as well as Abstract Expressionists who were popular in the United States. McEwen worked in a style that favored symmetrical compositions, and subtly referenced bodily movement and its relationship to nature.

Throughout the early 1950s, McEwen began regularly appearing in galleries in Québec and Ontario. His first solo exhibition took place in Ottawa at Galerie Agnes Lefort, and he appeared in Montreal’s Galerie Actuelle for an exhibition on non-figurative art in the 1950s. In 1960, he published his first book, Midi Temps J’aime-Poème en Couleur. Based off of his time spent on the east coast, McEwen shared poetry and his drawings in color in his publication. Until 1961, McEwen was working full-time for a Montreal based pharmaceutical company. After receiving a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, he reduced his hours spent at the pharmacy to focus on painting. He continued working at the pharmacy part-time until the 1970s.

After leaving the pharmaceutical industry, McEwen accepted lecturer positions at the Université du Québec à Trois Rivières and at Concordia University’s Department of Visual Arts. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts dedicated the first retrospective to McEwen’s art in 1987. In 2019, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts put on an exhibition, Untamed Colour: Celebrating Jean McEwen, to honour the artist and showcase the selection of the artist’s works that the museum has collected over the past two decades.

Literature Sources: The Canadian Encyclopedia, “Jean McEwen” Historica Canada, Accessed June 18, 2020
Ian McGillis, “Discovered Again: MMFA Honours Jean McEwen 20 Years After His Death, “Montreal Gazette, September 27, 2019

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