Artwork by Rita Letendre,  Winter Solstice

Rita Letendre
Winter Solstice

acrylic on canvas
signed titled and dated 1980 on the reverse; unframed
24 x 36 ins ( 61 x 91.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $20,000.00$15,000.00 - $20,000.00

Price Realized $30,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Gallery Moos, Calgary
Private Collection, Toronto
Joan Murray, “Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century”, Toronto, 1999, page 99
Wanda Nanibush and Georgiana Uhlyarik, “Rita Letendre: Fire and Light”, Toronto, 2017, page 17
As one of the few women artists at the centre of abstract art in Canada, Rita Letendre holds an important position in Canadian art history, having produced some of the most innovative examples of post-war art. During the 1960s, after a large mural commission at the University of California, the artist shifted away from gestural abstraction toward hard-edge abstraction, playing with flattened planes of colour and the use of an airbrush.

In the 1970s and 80s, the use of an airbrush became an integral element to Letendre’s work. Wanda Nanibush writes: “The use of an airbrush gave her considerable control over texture and coverage so she could execute pure, flat, evenly distributed arrows. The airbrush, coupled with tape, allowed for the colours to be butted up against each other in perfect lines.” This new technique allowed Letendre to have a smooth sense of control over her application of paint to further the formal elements of line and colour in her works. “Winter Solstice” is composed of airbrushed horizontal bands of red, grey and blue of varying widths, contrasted with very thin and sharp arrows in pink and black in the lower portion of the canvas. Joan Murray discusses how these works explore Letendre’s fascination with speed, stating, “Rita Letendre explored colour, line and composition through the use of forceful chevrons that cut across the composition diagonally or horizontally from one corner of the painting to the other. She obtained extra energy from applying narrow ridges of contrasting colour to the borders of each ray.”

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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.