Artwork by Lise Gervais,  La Voie d’Enfer (1959)

Lise Gervais
La Voie d’Enfer (1959)

oil on board
signed and dated 1959 lower right
32 x 36 ins ( 81.3 x 91.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $18,000.00$14,000.00 - $18,000.00

Price Realized $31,200.00
Sale date: June 9th 2021

Ritchie’s Canadian Art, auction, Toronto, November 29, 1994, Lot 264
Private Collection, Ontario
Working in Montreal, Lise Gervais was a follower of Paul-Émile Borduas and Les Automatistes, however was never a formal member of the group. Nonetheless, Gervais was a key fixture in the abstract painting movement during the 1960s in Quebec. The artist was concerned with the limitations of paint itself, opting for bold pigments with high contrast, creating energy in her works.

Gervais studied painting at École des beaux-arts de Montréal with Jacques de Tonnancour and Stanley Cosgrove, and sculpture with Louis Archambault from 1950 to 1954. Upon graduation, she participated in a number of group shows in Quebec, Montreal, Trois- Rivières, Chicoutimi, Granby, Sherbrooke and Ottawa. Gervais travelled to Spain in 1958 where she was particularly inspired by the work of Francisco Goya. Back in Montreal in 1961, she had her first solo show at the Galerie Denyse Delrue. She would go on to show with Gallery Moos in 1962. Gervais then returned to teaching for sixteen years, at the École des beaux-arts, Concordia University and L’Université de Québec in Montreal.

“Sans titre” was painted in 1959, shortly after the artist’s return from Spain and just prior to her first solo exhibition in 1961. The oil painting marks the beginning of her characteristic colour palette of black, red, yellow and white. Gervais was interested in the possibilities inherent in paint, and used the palette knife to apply broad swathes of colour to her canvases. Choosing pure, brilliant colours, she allowed minimal blending to occur in her work, thus her colours are incredibly pure and rich. Building on top of one another, each stroke of paint creates depth, movement and contrast of colour and complexity within the grid-like composition. In “Sans titre”, the viewer can see the foundations of the artist’s technique, steeped in the traditions of the Automatistes, and focusing on the limitations of the medium she developed throughout the 1960s.

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Lise Gervais
(1933 - 1998)

Born in St. Cesaire, Quebec, Gervais studied both painting and sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Montreal under Stanley Cosgrove and Jacques de Tonnancour (painting); Jean Simard, M. Marcotte, and S. Duquette (drawing); and under Louis Archambault (sculpture). She travelled to Europe in 1958 where she visited Spain and viewed particularly the drawings and paintings of Goya.

After a number of group shows in Quebec, Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Chicoutimi, Granby, Sherbrooke and Ottawa, she held her first solo show at Galerie Denyse Delrue, Montreal, in February of 1961; she exhibited there again in 1962 and in Toronto at the Moos Gallery. Viewing her paintings in 1964 Dorothy Pfeiffer commented, “. . . in spite of the amount in pounds of paint laid on her canvases, Gervais manages to suggest dimensions of space, depth, transparency, texture, and movement which are remarkable . . . colourful, stencil-like, paintings climb like exotic vines, or else soar like flights of birds of paradise. Everything moves, flies, rises, or flaps loudly in Gervais’ paintings. But nothing – absolutely nothing – flutters. In fact, the dominant note in her technique is ‘power,’ a power both authoritative and invigorating.”

Spanning a period of sixteen years during the 60's and 70's, she taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, at Universite du Quebec a Montreal, and at Concordia University. In 1967 she exhibited at the Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec and also at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. In 1970 she had two other shows, one at the Musee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal and another in Paris at the Musee Rodin. In 1983-84, she was elected president of the Conseil des Artistes-Peintres du Quebec. Her works in the collections of Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec, Queen’s University (Kingston) and the Albright Knox Museum (Buffalo, USA).

While living in Montreal, she spent most of her time in the solitude of the woods and lakes in the Laurentides, Quebec. She died at age 65.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979