Artwork by Christian Marcel Barbeau,  Dents de sable à cran d’acier / le langage des sources

Marcel Barbeau
Dents de sable à cran d’acier / le langage des sources

oil on canvas, laid on panel
signed and dated 1947 lower right; signed, titled and dated on the reverse
11.75 x 16.75 ins ( 29.8 x 42.5 cms )

Sold for $23,600.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Private Collection, Toronto
The influence of Paul-Émile Borduas and Automatiste philosophies are readily apparent in this work by Christian Marcel Barbeau. Prior to the publication and signing of Le Refus Global in 1948, Barbeau had re-examined his paintings of this period and destroyed many works deemed not radical enough for total abstraction. This early 1947 piece survived Barbeau’s purge and stands as testament to his progressive artistic tendencies on the advent of one of Quebec’s most groundbreaking artistic movements, influencing generations of artists across Canada and the globe.

“Dents de sable à cran d’acier / le langage des sources” showcases an exacting handling of the palette knife with vigorous black strokes breaking way for luminous fragments of pure whites, punctuated with royal blue and contrasting fiery orange. This precocious early work by the artist moves the viewer’s eye in an ascending motion across the surface plane. The viewer can almost feel the fervent energy Barbeau had acted upon the painting while in process, imbuing the checkered composition with an intrinsic dynamism. The all-over abstraction gives way to the spontaneity and free association of the painterly process, while also maintaining a balance and tight patterning; a daring exploration on the cusp of modern abstraction in Canadian art.

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Christian Marcel Barbeau
(1925 - 2016) Les Automatistes, RCA

Marcel Barbeau - painter, sculptor, and filmmaker, was born in Montreal in 1925. He started painting at the age of 19. He studied in the same class as Jean Paul Riopelle with whom he later shared a studio, and also was a pupil of Paul-Emile Borduas. He worked in a photographic studio waiting for an opportunity to paint full-time, a goal which he finally realized with the wider recognition of his work.

An active member of the Automatistes movement led by Paul-Emile Borduas, Barbeau was a widely exhibited, innovative artist. As well as studying drawing at the Ecole du meuble, Montreal, he worked with Borduas, architect Marcel Parizeau, and art historian Maurice Gagnon. His exhibitions have drawn interesting comments from Lawrence Sabbath who compares his large areas of white paint to the silent passages in American composer John Cage’s works.

He travelled extensively from 1962-74, living and exhibiting in Paris, New York, and California, and his style changed, moving from the lyrical abstracts of the Automatiste period towards a more geometric mode. Reviewing his retrospective showing at Scarborough College in 1969, Barry Lord noted, “Like many painters recently, he appears dissatisfied with the lack of an object in the colour field, and he is now intent on making the painting of an actual form without losing the literal values of the field.”

In the late 1970s he returned to the free-form, all-over surface activity that he had favoured before. By 1987, inspired by his sculpture and collages, his painting style changed again, moving back to hard edge forms in highly contrasted colours. He won many awards, including the 1964 Royal Canadian Academy Zack Award and the 1994 Gold Medal in painting at the Jeux de la Francophonie in Paris.

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