Artwork by Jean Paul Lemieux,  Femme en noir

Jean Paul Lemieux
Femme en noir

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1980 lower left; titled on the gallery label on the reverse
44.5 x 24.25 ins ( 113 x 61.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $200,000.00$150,000.00 - $200,000.00

Price Realized $120,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Kaspar Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Montreal
Canadian Fine Arts, Toronto
The Collection of Joe and Anita Robertson, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Guy Robert, “Lemieux,” Toronto, 1978, page 240
Michèle Grandbois, “Jean Paul Lemieux: Life & Work” [online publication], Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2016, pages 40, 63
Jean Paul Lemieux is well–known for the serenity and nostalgia of his so–called “classic period” between 1956 and 1970. During these years, Lemieux took inspiration from a number of themes, of which time and space were the most significant. Empty spaces inhabited by simplified figures were key features of this period and would develop further as the artist shifted away from the narrative toward the flat space of the picture plane. Lemieux wrote, “In my landscapes and my characters I try to express the solitude we all have to live with, and in each painting, the inner world of my memories. My external surroundings only interest me because they allow me to paint my inner world.” Most frequently staged in winter, Lemieux’s landscape paintings suspend time and space, and capture the artist’s inner world of solitude and unique painterly vision of Quebec.

Between 1970 and 1990, Lemieux’s painting underwent a transformation. The serenity of Lemieux’s landscapes were replaced by compositions in which dark masses cover the majority of the picture plane and is referred to as the artist’s “Expressionist period.” During these years, Lemieux explored themes of anxiety, war and death which illustrate his political concerns over the future of mankind. Lemieux vented: “The machine age with its dreadful uniformity is spreading and crushing all that gave Quebec its unique character among the cities of America.” Though also influenced by European and American modernists, Lemieux found kinship with the Nordic Expressionist painter Edvard Munch. A pioneer of the Expressionist movement, Munch too expressed his anxiety at the trajectory and evolution of the modern world, often questioning his own place within it.

“Femme en noir” belongs to the Nordic Expressionist tradition, whose sensibility Lemieux shared. Wrapped in a heavy raccoon coat and fur toque, Lemieux’s “Femme en noir” is isolated in personal solitude as she stands against a vast winter landscape, the biting cold reddening her cheeks. Unlike the passive figures of the artist’s earlier paintings, this figure intentionally looks past the viewer with a subtle expression of anxiety and fear, alerting us to an unseen presence which lurks in the distance. Lemieux's depiction of the isolated figure in a desolate landscape conveys the artist’s distress over the future of mankind and mankind’s place in the universe. “The essential element in my last paintings is the person,” Lemieux explains. “The landscape is his 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.” In this quietly powerful painting, Lemieux’s “Femme en noir” pushes against the cold of a harsh winter toward the fear of an uncertain future.

Jean Paul Lemieux died in Quebec City in 1990, two years before the opening of a retrospective of his work at the Musée national des beaux–arts du Québec. A Companion of the Order of Canada, Lemieux is regarded as one of the most important Quebec artists of the 20th century.

This artwork has been consigned from the Collection of Joe and Anita Robertson. The artwork from the collection (Lots 43-47 in this auction) is being offered in memory of Joe, Anita and Laura Robertson. Each work of art was carefully chosen by the Robertson family and hung in their welcoming home.

Joe and Anita Robertson were prominent Niagara Peninsula businesspeople, both born to large, closely knit families. They met as teenagers while working at a McDonald’s in Bells Corners, Nepean and married in 1986, raising three children, Taylor, Clark and Laura.

Joe and Anita were lifelong best friends and business partners. They excelled in their careers, purchasing a small dental supply company in St. Catharines, Ontario to grow it under the name of Arcona Health Incorporated. They would sell the company with Joe becoming the CEO and Chair of the Board of Directors of the parent company’s Canadian subsidiary, Henry Schein Arcona Inc.

Laura Robertson, the family’s youngest child, grew up in St. Catharines before moving to Vancouver to earn her Bachelor’s of Kinesiology from the University of British Columbia in 2017. Laura had begun working in Brock University’s Kinesiology Department as a Facilities Coordinator at the time of her passing. She was an active volunteer at Red Roof Retreat and was proud to serve Niagara-on-the-Lake as a volunteer firefighter. Laura had a lifelong passion for the arts and was a skilled illustrator and oil painter.

Joe and Anita Robertson were philanthropically active in their Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines communities, making major financial contributions to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre to build a multipurpose theatre, the Niagara Health Foundation to support the construction of the hospital and the Niagara-on-the-Lake nursery, as well as many other causes.

Besides being active volunteers, they also individually played pivotal roles supporting the St. Catharines & District United Way, the Council of Chairs of Ontario Universities, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, Music Cares, Bravo Niagara and the Brock Performing Arts Centre. Joe also served on the board of Brock University for over a decade, and between 2012 and 2014 was Chair of their Board of Governors.

As such strong supporters and active participants of arts and culture, it is not surprising that the artwork they collected reflected their passion for art.

Cowley Abbott is proud to donate a portion of our commission from the sale of the family’s artwork to the United Way Niagara in memory of Joe, Anita and Laura Robertson and on behalf of their surviving children, Clark and Taylor.

Additional artwork from The Collection of Joe and Anita Robertson will be featured in a Cowley Abbott online auction, which will be open for bidding from November 28th to December 12th. We extend our thanks to Brett Sherlock Advisory for their active and important role in advising the Robertson family.

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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.