Artwork by René Marcil,  Untitled

René Marcil

oil on board
signed lower left
24 x 24 ins ( 61 x 61 cms )

Auction Estimate: $10,000.00$8,000.00 - $10,000.00

Price Realized $9,000.00
Sale date: April 19th 2022

Patrimoine Marcil
Private Collection, Toronto

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René Marcil
(1917 - 1993)

René Marcil was a French Canadian painter, draftsman and fashion illustrator. Born in Montreal, Quebec, he moved to New York in 1941, and in 1949, escaping McCarthyism, to Paris and the South of France. From 1960 to 1992 he split his time between London, Paris and a small village near Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Tourettes-sur-Loup, punctuated by short stays in New York and Toronto.

Marcil suffered from a bone illness, for which he had surgery as a youngster but the operation left him with a slightly shorter right arm and a light limp. During a loveless childhood, he began to collect and copy illustrations from newspapers and reproductions of religious pictures, works by Raphael and Piero della Francesca. At 14, he was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Montreal: he graduated in 1935. The training he got there served him well in his subsequent career as an engraver in the advertising industry and as a fashion illustrator in Montreal for Morgan's and Eaton's department stores where he met and married fashion illustrator Evelyn Rowat.

In 1941, the couple moved to New York to work as fashion illustrators for department stores such as Lord & Taylor's, which advertised womensware in newspapers. Soon, his elegant, polished, distinguished illustrations were reproduced in the New York Times. His interpretations of models wearing Christian Dior's "New Look", launched in 1947, helped establish the style. A collection of these drawings by Marcil is since 2018 in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (MAD) at the Louvre. Olivier Gabet, President and Director of the Louvre Museum wrote that Marcil's "expressive and refined sketches - enable one to appreciate the dissemination of fashion trends in the media and the history of fashion illustration style."

In 1950, in Paris, Marcil enrolled at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière for two years. There, influenced by artists that he met such as Sonia Delaunay, he discovered Neoplasticism, a creed which involved the basic elements of painting, colour, line, form, used only in their purest, most fundamental state. Later he combined this influence with his own personal homage to the great masters of painting, such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne, and with his innate desire to express himself, he found himself as an artist. His paintings were at first figurative but evolved towards abstraction, yet his work remained hybrid, reaching towards expression whether abstract or figurative, poetic in colour and composition as a curator from the Metropolitan Museum acknowledged.

Shows of his work followed in the 1960s and 1970s in New York, London (UK), Montreal and Toronto. In New York City, his work was shown from 1959 to 1964 at Van Diemen-Lilienfeld Galleries. In London, England, his work was shown at the Stanhope Institute in 1974. In Montreal in 1976, his work was shown at Galerie l'Art Francais. Gallery-owner Jean-Pierre Valentin wrote glowingly that Marcil had:

"the quality of combining graphic design, great draftsmanship, extraordinary color, fascinating surfaces ... [and] delicate poetic feeling."

In Toronto in 1977, critics of his show at the Kar Gallery recognized the intensity and starkness of his own inner vision. Fellow artist Julius Marosan acknowledged the change in his work to abstraction, writing that the show had caused excitement and surprise among gallerygoers and praising his imaginative and very painterly approach. Marosan called him talented and very experienced.

In the catalogue for the Kar Gallery exhibition, Kay Kritzwiser, the art critic for the Globe and Mail, called Marcil a lone individualist and truly Canadian. She wrote:

"He communicates the pleasure he discovers in putting down his ideas, his facility with paint and his almost epicurean device in making his luminous surfaces come together without conflict... his glowing sensuous colors of his abstract paintings are bright, unmuddied, and they come movingly together, cleared of all inessentials."

In the mid-1980s, Marcil's art changed again, this time to Neo-Expressionism. He returned to portraying the human body but now he rejected traditional composition and design and favoured the heightened, vivid palette he had used in abstraction but with a rougher handling of materials. He presented his subjects in a manner that communicated a sense of emotion using imaginative imagery and allusions. With his broad repertoire he brought to the style subjects guided by his everyday life. These works are further evidence of the breadth of his skillset.

René Marcil had a lifelong dedication to his art. He maintained an epistolary relationship with his wife, Evelyn for almost 40 years, meeting each other on rare occasions. He died of a heart attack in 1993.

His work is in the permanent public collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (MAD) at the Louvre which features a large collection of works by Dubuffet. In Canada, his paintings are included in the collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and in numerous private collections.

We extend our thanks to Canadian art historian Joan Murray for contributing this biography.