Lot #12

Rita Letendre

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1963 lower right; signed, titled and dated “Paris 1963” on the reverse
18 x 21.75 ins ( 45.7 x 55.2 cms )

Galerie Camille Hébert, Montreal
Heffel Fine Art, auction, Vancouver, 28 May 2016, lot 217
Private Collection, Montreal
Guy Viau, ‘La peinture moderne au Canada français’ in “Rita Letendre”, Gallery Gevik, Toronto, 2010, page 4
Rita Letendre’s work of the early 1960s exudes the confidence of an artist who has earned both commercial success and critical acclaim. By this point in her career, Letendre had won significant prizes, recently participated in a travelling exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Canada and held a solo exhibition at the Musée des beaux- arts in Montreal. In 1962, Letendre received a grant from the Canada Council and travelled extensively through Europe and Israel.

Letendre’s paintings of the period were exuberant, gestural abstractions influenced by Paul-Èmile Borduas, Franz Kline and others. Using palette knives and spatulas, she created rich and luscious impasto surfaces. Her work often featured dark swirls of oil paint sharply contrasted with areas of vivid colour. The modest scale of this work from 1963 creates tension between dynamics of expansion and containment. Titled after the brightest star in the night sky, “Sirius” evokes cosmic forces and transcendence. Writer Guy Viau commented, “The painter Rita Letendre is fiery, but as thoughtful as she is passionate; her gesture as rapid as her reflection is deliberate... These works have the freshness of a beginning, the freshness of morning, suggesting natural cataclysms, or maybe planets colliding. As a woman painter, Rita Letendre incarnates power.” Sirius exemplifies the late period of Letendre’s gestural abstracts. Only a few years later, the artist would go on to decisively shift her painting practice to structured, geometric works.

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Rita Letendre
(1928 - 2021) RCA

Canadian painter, muralist, and printmaker Rita Letendre was born in Drummondville, Quebec, in 1928. She is of Iroquois descent. Letendre and her parents moved to Montreal in 1941. She settled in Toronto in 1963. In part, Letendre is self-taught but she studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Montreal for year and a half. While in school she was introduced to the Automatistes due to pamphlets announcing the locations of their new paintings.

Encouraged by Borduas, Mosseau, and Ferron’s art, Letendre began exploring similar motifs in her paintings and began exhibiting with the group from 1952-55. In 1955 she exhibited in “Espace 1955” at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Sharing a studio with fellow Automatiste painter and sculptor, Ulysse Comtois, Letendre became the subject of an article by the Weekend Magazine on non-objective Montreal-based painters. Then, in 1959, Letendre was included in the Third Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Art. In the following year the National Gallery of Canada included Letendre in their Non-Figurative Artists of Montreal exhibit that traveled throughout Canada. In 1962, Letendre received a travelling grant from the Canada Council and traveled to Paris, Italy, Israel, Spain, Belgium, and Germany.

Using a variety of techniques and media such as brush, spatula, pastel, silkscreen, and airbrush, Letendre was a leading member of the colourist movement. Exhibited in over sixty-five solo exhibitions, Letendre’s work can be described in three distinct periods. Her first period, known as the Montreal years, was inspired by her first meeting with Borduas and was a rich exploration of self-discovery. Letendre’s second period was inspired by Russian-born sculptor Kosso Eloul, who later became her husband. Her final period was rooted in mourning and love.

Letendre’s works vary in size from grand murals that are sixty feet by sixty feet in size to small projects on silkscreen. These works are collected throughout the North American continent by governments and public and private galleries and organizations. Letendre’s work has been exhibited in Europe, Israel, Japan, and throughout North America in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

Literature Sources:
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979
Roumanes, Jacques-Bernard. “Rita Letendre: Le tableau ivre.” Vie des Arts 45, 183, 2001
Andersen, Marguerite. “Rita Letendre: Énergie et luminosité. L’art du féminin, 12 2004

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