Artwork by Marcelle Ferron,  Sans titre

Marcelle Ferron
Sans titre

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1960 lower left; signed (twice) and dated 1960 on the reverse
74.75 x 98.5 ins ( 189.9 x 250.2 cms )

Auction Estimate: $750,000.00$550,000.00 - $750,000.00

Price Realized $1,260,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Acquired directly from the Artist by Alexander Orlow for the Peter Stuyvesant Collection, Amsterdam, 1960
Sotheby’s Canada, auction, Toronto, 2 June 2010, lot 107
Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg
Private Collection, British Columbia
“Collection Peter Stuyvesant”, representing the Netherlands at La Foire Industrielle de l’Allemagne à Berlin-Ouest, West Berlin, 21 September‒7 October 1962
“The Peter Stuyvesant Collection”, Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (travelling exh.), 1964
“The Art Gallery in the Factory/Le musee dans l’usine”, Pavillon de Marsan Palais du Louvre, Paris; travelling to Palais des Beaux Arts à Bruxelles, Brussels; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Rothmans Art Gallery, Stratford; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 28 September 1966‒6 October 1968
Arnold Witte, ‘The myth of corporate art: the start of the Peter Stuyvesant Collection and its alignment with public arts policy in the Netherlands, 1950–1960’, “International Journal of Cultural Policy”, 27:3, pages 344-357
Marcelle Ferron is remembered as a painter, stained-glass designer, and the creator of important public art. She was an active member of the avant-garde group Les Automatistes in Montreal from 1946, a student and protege of Paul-Émile Borduas, and a signatory to the 1948 manifesto “Refus global” (“Total Refusal”) that he initiated. This vanguard document was a call to liberate artistic and cultural expression, both personally and in the province, and was pivotal in the mid 20th-century modernization of art and culture in Quebec. With Borduas and other leading reformers, Ferron initially adopted the expressive form of abstraction inspired by Surrealism and based on abstract imagery from the unconscious and ‘automatic’ techniques, echoes of which we see in the free forms of “Sans titre” from 1960.

Like many other progressive artists in Montreal and Quebec at this time, including Jean-Paul Riopelle, Ferron felt the need for wider horizons. In 1953 she moved to Paris, where she joined a supportive community of expatriates and was favoured by the French avant- garde. Exhibiting in France and Montreal from the mid‒1950s on, she returned to Quebec in 1966. In France she had learned the techniques of glass artist Michel Blum, and in Montreal expanded her pictorial ideas into stained glass at Expo ’67’s International Trade Centre and in the Champ-de-Mars metro station (installed in 1968). The latter was the first non-figurative art in the metro system. She designed the towering stained-glass “Permanent Memorial for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs of the Nazi Holocaust” for Concordia University in Montreal (1970). In 1983, she was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas. She became a Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Quebec in 2000.

“Sans titre” has a notable pedigree. It was one of the original paintings commissioned in 1960 for what became The Peter Stuyvesant Collection, a large body of cutting-edge abstract art formed in the Netherlands by Alexander Orlow (1918–2009), managing director of the Turmac cigarette factory in Zevenaar, The Netherlands. Orlow collaborated with two state organizations to mobilize a public facing policy for this new art (the Fondation Européenne de la Culture and the Nederlandse Kunststichting (‘Dutch Art Foundation’). The mission was to enliven factory environments with works that expressed a “joie de vivre”.

Large, vibrant, and dynamic, “Sans titre” is indeed irrepressible. The bold forms move to their own rhythms. At the same time, we can readily feel that they were made by a painter who is moving physically in the space of the canvas. Compellingly animated from a distance, the sweeping forms perform what can be imagined as a perpetual dance of transformation. Close up or standing back, we can appreciate her skillful use of hue, texture, and movement. Colours meld and reappear; forms materialise and vanish into the shallow space of the picture surface, kept on this level by a white ground. Ferron has used abundant pigment in parts of this painting: edges appear and form a temporary topography. Her touch is also smooth, light, even sweet in other areas. A welter of movement, the canvas also resolves in passages where Ferron moves from one sort of paint application to another and in which definite shapes emerge. For example, in the lower right, she deploys bright blue and blue-green forms across the white ground. Using a large hard-edged implement, she drags the colours into one another, sometimes building up ridges, sometimes working the paint so thin that it looks like water. Like liquid too, nothing stands still here. The ability to suggest movement also depends on light in “Sans titre”, the tonal and chromatic range of its pigments and the gloss of the surface. While this work was made years before her stained-glass installations, in retrospect, it seems as if a painting like “Sans titre” is the perfect departure point for a medium that literally filters and spreads light. Historically and formally, Sans titre is closely linked to Ferron’s commitment to an art for the public.

We extend our thanks to Dr. Mark A. Cheetham for contributing the preceding essay. Mark A. Cheetham is the author of two books on abstract art: “The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory” and “The Advent of Abstract Painting and Abstract Art Against Autonomy: Infection, Resistance, and Cure since the ‘60s”. He is a professor of Art History at the University of Toronto.

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Marcelle Ferron
(1924 - 2001) Les Automatistes, RCA

Marcelle Ferron was born in Louiseville, Quebec, in 1924. At the age of seven she lost her mother and her father moved the family to the country, hoping the rural environment would be good for his children. Ferron suffered from tuberculosis in early childhood and frequent stays in the hospital forged in her an independent spirit.

Following high school, she studied at the college Marguerite-Bourgeois and then registered at the Quebec Ecole des Beaux-arts. Ferron quit before finishing her studies, finding that the instruction did not fit her idea of modern art. After a few years of experimentation she met Paul-Emile Borduas. He became her mentor and introduced her to a new abstract style of painting. Under his tutelage, Ferron formulated an approach to painting which allowed her to express her own personal vision. In 1946 she joined the group of painters known as the Automatistes. She exhibited with them and began to gain recognition in the art world. When the Automatiste group disbanded in 1953, Marcelle Ferron decided to move to France.

She separated from her husband and left for France with her three daughters. She settled in Clamart, a suburb of Paris, where she lived and kept her studio. She concentrated on painting, making this a very productive period. Full of light, her strong abstract works caught the attention of gallery owners and influential figures in the French art world. Among these was Herta Wescher, who helped her to organize exhibits throughout Europe. In Paris, Ferron also made connections with many other artists, such as Leon Bellefleur and Jean-Paul Riopelle. The period she spent in France was extremely significant for her career as a painter. When she returned to Quebec in 1966 she was an internationally-known artist.

Back in Quebec she met the glass maker, Michel Blum. She found that working with glass allowed her to explore light and colour more fully. In collaboration with a team of glass technicians, she invented a method that allowed her to build walls of light. She inserted antique coloured glass between sheets of clear glass, perfecting a method by which the joints were made invisibly. Her first major glass achievement was the mural for Expo 67. However, it was the glass wall that she created for the Champ-de-Mars metro station that made her known to the Quebec public. These works lead to many glass art commissions for public spaces. During this period Marcelle Ferron also taught architecture and art at the University Laval. She returned to painting around 1985.

In 1983, she was the first woman to receive the Prix Paul-Emile-Borduas. Among her other honours was the silver medal she won at the Sao Paolo Biennieal in Brazil in 1961. The Government of Quebec recognized her contribution to Quebec culture with the Ordre national du Quebec. It should be noted that Marcelle Ferron was an early feminist who, with daring, faced and overcame many obstacles. A woman of integrity, she was devoted to her art, insisting that she did not paint for collectors. Painting, rather, was her passion. She broke ground for women artists in Canada today.

Marcelle Ferron died in 2001. The famous Quebec writers, Jacques Ferron and Madeleine Ferron are her brother and sister.