Artwork by Léon Bellefleur,  Chant de mai

Léon Bellefleur
Chant de mai

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1975 lower left; signed, titled and dated 1975 on the reverse
51.5 x 77 ins ( 130.8 x 195.6 cms )

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

Price Realized $33,040.00
Sale date: September 24th 2020

Private Collection, Toronto
Guy Robert, “Bellefleur: The Fervour of the Quest”, Montreal, 1988, pages 89, 103, 115 and 121
Léon Bellefleur’s artistic output in the 1970s progressively became more lyrical than in previous decades. The dance of pigments, texture and movement in “Chant de mai” captures an impulse of inspired paint application on the canvas. Against the softened background, the swaths of paint, thickly applied with both the palette and brush, emphasize a contrast between light and dark, conveying an energetic atmosphere.

Bellefleur had close ties to painters Paul-Émile Borduas and Alfred Pellan - leaders of the Montreal art scene in the 1940s – and was heavily influenced by their debate on the ideological differences of Surrealism. This intellectually charged atmosphere served Bellefleur well. His interest and research into Esoterism grew, enriching his artwork with the exploration of the mysterious and unknown. According to Bellefleur, “The most important thing is not what we see, but what we imagine.”

“Chant de mai” incorporates the quintessential elements of Leon Bellefleur’s artistic progression through the 1960s into the 1970s; the spray of pigment left to dry between paint applications, a softened background and swaths of paint applied thickly with the palette and brush, emphasizing a contrast between light and dark. The application of the medium instills a sense of hurried explosion by the artist on the canvas. Mimicking the exuberance of the title, translating to ‘May Song’, this work captures the symphony of spring rebirth with the organic twists and turns of faceted strokes of paint, bringing loose movement and energy to the work. Rather than create pieces with static flatness and hard-edge colour blocking, as was in vogue with many of the artist’s contemporaries, Bellefleur explores an esoteric approach to painting.

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Léon Bellefleur
(1910 - 2007) RCA

Born in Montréal, Quebec, in 1910, Leon Bellefleur knew by age twelve that he wanted to become a painter. At ten years old, Bellefleur began painting landscapes on found cardboard from the grocery store. He earned a teaching diploma in 1929. Bellefleur attended evening classes until 1936 at the École des Beaux-Arts where he found himself admiring the works by Rembrandt and Balzac. In 1940, Bellefleur met Alfred Pellan and other artists associated with Prisme d’Yeux, such as Albert Dumouchel and Jacques de Tonnancour, throughout the decade. Working in opposition to the Automatistes, Prisme d’Yeujc did not have an overarching aesthetic and valued the spirituality of painting as a media. Considered to be a surrealist, Bellefleur explores the conscious through painting, lithography, and etching.

Bellefleur’s abstract depictions were influenced by Paul Klee, a German modernist, as well as children’s art. Bellefleur believed that children hold special creative abilities and that these skills can be curated through adolescence and into adulthood. He was particularly inspired by the direct and extemporaneous forms of communication that are found in children’s art. After receiving a Canada Council Fellowship, Bellefleur traveled to Paris in 1958. While in Paris he studied engraving under J. Friedlaender and lithography with Ateliers Desjobert. Following his time spent in France, he developed his faceted painting style. This style involved painting non-figurative compositions with a palette knife.

Beginning in 1946, Bellefleur began exhibiting in global art galleries. First, in the Maison des Compagnons at a Children’s Drawing Exhibition. Then in 1951, he participated in Cobra’s Second International Exhibition in Liège, Belgium. In the same year, his oil paintings won the Jessie Dow award and received honourable mention for his drawings in the Second Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Art. In 1960, he was selected to represent Canada at the Guggenheim International Contest alongside five other painters. Bellefleur’s first retrospective took place at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa in 1968. This exhibition later traveled to London, Ont., and Montréal. In 1977, Bellefleur became the first recipient of the Borduas Prize. He also received the Louis-Philippe Hébert Prize from the Société-Saint-Jean-Baptiste in 1985, as well as an honorary doctorate degree from Concordia University in 1987. He was included in the Royal Canadian Academy in 1989.

Literature Sources:
Roberts, Guy. “Léon Bellefleur: Autour de quelques propos de l’artiste.” La Société La Vie des Arts 32, no. 128, September 1987
A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977

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