Artwork by Jean Paul Lemieux,  Portrait de femme

Jean Paul Lemieux
Portrait de femme

oil on textured paper mounted to card
signed lower left; signed in pencil on a paper affixed to the reverse
14 x 11 ins ( 35.6 x 27.9 cms )

Auction Estimate: $55,000.00$35,000.00 - $55,000.00

Price Realized $52,800.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Kastel Gallery, Montreal
Private Collection
Guy Robert, “Lemieux”, Toronto, 1978, pages 209 and 244
Michèle Grandbois, “Jean Paul Lemieux: Life & Work” [online publication], Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2016, page 63
Portraits occupy a strong presence in Jean Paul Lemieux’s multi-faceted body of work. Throughout his career he depicted his sitters in a frontal stance with a direct view into the facial expression. Guy Robert, on the subject of the artist’s portraits, writes that “Lemieux believes that the face has a message to impart all through life, and a good deal of his work has been concerned with capturing the characteristic expressions of different stages of life from cradle to the deathbed.”

Inspiration for documenting the human expression came from an interest in American Social Realism in his early career, particularly the movement’s interest in showcasing the daily lives of working class people. Later in life, Lemieux’s portraits were influenced by Edvard Munch and the Expressionist school of painting, as they seek to portray anxiety and the artist’s “dark, tragic vision of the tormented historical era he was living through.”

As Quebec was experiencing a decade of artistic innovation with flourishing avant-garde abstract movements, Lemieux himself turned away from narrative to focus on the flat space of the picture plane. He never fully embraced abstraction, however; the artist rather painted empty landscapes with a bare horizon line or a figure in the foreground. Lemieux “expressed the perilous human condition by showing figures isolated in their personal solitude.”

In “Portrait de femme”, Lemieux depicts one of his isolated figures, staring straight out at the viewer, surrounded by a very dark blue background. Faint rectangular forms and dots in the background, as well as the figure’s warm clothing, suggest that the painting is set outdoors, possibly in a city at night. Lemieux often depicted a solitary figure in a landscape, reminding the viewer of mankind’s place within the universe as a dependent of the landscape it occupies‒the landscape and figure are not mutually exclusive. The artist states: “The landscape is the setting. If you could have a world without human beings, the landscape would be the same. But the presence of man changes everything. It is the place of the human within the universe that matters. The person finds his footing, finds himself, in the landscape.”

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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.