Artwork by Jean Paul Lemieux,  Les Lacs du Nord

Jean P. Lemieux
Les Lacs du Nord

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1957 lower right; titled on the stretcher on the reverse
13.5 x 27.5 ins ( 34.3 x 69.9 cms )

Auction Estimate: $30,000.00$20,000.00 - $30,000.00

Price Realized $26,400.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Private Collection, Toronto
“4 Canadians”, Art Gallery of Toronto, travelling to UBC Fine Arts Gallery, November 1957-July 1958
Michèle Grandbois, “Jean Paul Lemieux: Life & Work” [online publication], Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2016, pages 55, 61 and 63
During the 1950s and 60s, as Quebec was experiencing a period of artistic innovation with flourishing avant-garde abstract movements, Jean Paul Lemieux turned away from narrative to focus on the flat space of the picture plane. He never fully embraced abstraction, however; the artist rather painted large, empty landscapes with a bare horizon line or a figure in the foreground. These features came to be the defining traits of Lemieux’s “classic period”, categorized as dating between 1956 and 1970. Michèle Grandbois writes that the artist’s deserted landscapes from this time, which include “Les Lacs, Dunord” dating to 1967, “are charged with feelings of time passing, of death, of the human condition, and of the loneliness and smallness of human beings before the infinite horizons of the vast landscapes of Canada.” The oil painting presents a view from above of a forest surrounding small bodies of water. The scene is abundant with nature, but barren of any human presence. Soft brushstrokes and a muted colour palette that is calming yet almost eerie. The colour scheme is also in keeping with the period: Grandbois remarks that “his palette was now limited to just a few pigments: olive green, white, shades of ochre, earth colours, and red. [...] Lemieux used subdued, in-between shades that accorded with the meditative nature of these canvases. The softened tones parallel the evocation of memory, and the monochrome or oligochrome (reduced) palettes add to the effect of immensity created by the horizontal format.”

Up until the late 1950s, Lemieux had painted directly from nature and often outdoors. He then switched to working exclusively from inside his studio, without models, and using only daylight for illumination. The artist declared: “I am painting … an interior world. I have stored up a lot of things.” He elaborated on his spontaneous approach that stemmed from his imagination, stating “You are guided by the picture much more often than you guide it. And that can lead to results completely unlike what you may have intended or planned.”

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Jean Paul Lemieux
(1904 - 1990) RCA, Companion of the Order of Canada

Born in 1904, in Quebec City Jean Paul Lemieux pursued an artistic career in his native province of Quebec and became one of the most significant painters of Canadian Modernism. While on holiday in 1914 at Kent House, twelve kilometers outside of Quebec City, Lemieux met an American artist named Parnell and began sketching and creating watercolour paintings of a nearby waterfall. In 1917, Lemieux studied at Loyola College and Collège Mont-Saint-Louis, in Montreal. His studies included lessons in watercolour and classes taught by Canadian Impressionist Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté. In 1926, Lemieux enrolled at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal with ambitions of becoming a professional painter. His studies were conservative in nature and did not include any mention of Modernism.

In 1929, Lemieux was living in Paris with his mother. He was uninterested in the surrealists or French Modernists, like Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse, at the time. While in Paris, Lemieux was interested in illustration and studied advertising art and took life drawing classes. Upon his return to Montreal he set up a commercial advertising art company, JANSS, with his friends Jean Palardy and Jori Smith. JANSS closed six months later due to the ongoing economic crisis.

While visiting his sister in the United States, Lemieux encountered Paul Gauguin’s work as well as American Social Realism and artists associated with the Work Progress Administration (WPA), which sparked his curiosity. Encouraged by his newfound fascination with European and American artists, Lemieux returned to the École des beaux-arts de Montréal in 1931 and graduated in 1934. After graduation, he was hired by his alma mater to teach drawing and design. In 1935, he began working at the newly founded École du meuble, where he taught painting and perspective drawing. Several years later, in 1937, Lemieux started teaching at the École des beaux-arts de Québec, in Quebec City. As a teacher, Lemieux guided his students throughout their own art journeys and encouraged his students with extensive knowledge of traditional Québécois art. In 1965, Lemieux retired from teaching to focus on his own art.

Alongside his teaching career, Lemieux was an active art critic. He wrote in both French and English for journals and newspapers where he explored how Canadian artists could successfully transition to Modernism. He believed that artists would need to have a broad knowledge of Western art and be open to contemporary art trends in Europe and the United States in order for Modernism to take hold in Canada. His writings defended the democratization of art, and he hoped that Canada would establish a muralist movement similar to the WPA under President Roosevelt.

“In general, Lemieux’s paintings up until 1940 were derived from a realistic and decorative style. As with many artists the influence of Cézanne also played an important role in his early work but he was to leave this behind by the beginning of the 1940’s. A complete change in his work is evident for instance in the large canvas “Lazare” which he painted in 1941. This widely reproduced work is an allegorical work which seems to depict isolationism of old Quebec during the period of the Second World War. By 1951 a new and simplified style of almost cubistic structure was to herald a dramatic change in his work. By the 1960’s Lemieux’s paintings were mainly of quaint lonely figures in austere landscapes. These landscapes were made up of little more than a horizon line to suggest a division between earth and sky although each of a different colour. Although he did not consider himself a landscape painter, his figures were often portrayed in a landscape setting.”

Lemieux was an active artist who won countless awards and frequently participated in exhibitions. In 1934, he won the William Brymner Prize, an award for artists under the age of thirty. Lemieux regularly participated in exhibitions at the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 1934, the Musée national des beaux-arts de Quebec began collecting his paintings, drawings, and illustrated books. In 1954, he received a grant from the Royal Society of Canada allowing him to travel to France with his family. He was honoured by Montreal Museum of Fine Arts by a retrospective exhibition in the fall of 1967. This show of 108 works was then exhibited at the Musée du Quebec and the National Gallery of Canada. Lemieux received the Order of Canada in 1968.

His works were shown throughout the world at exhibitions, such as the Brussels International Exhibition, the Pittsburgh International Exhibition, and the Venice Biennale. He died in Quebec City in 1990, two years before a major retrospective honored him at the Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec.

Literature Sources:
Michèle Grandbois. Jean Paul Lemieux: Life and Work, Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2016 (
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979

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