Artwork by Marcelle Ferron,  Sans titre

Marcelle Ferron
Sans titre

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1961 lower left
32 x 39.25 in ( 81.3 x 99.7 cm )

Auction Estimate: $150,000.00$120,000.00 - $150,000.00

Price Realized $120,000.00
Sale date: May 30th 2024

Private Collection, Toronto
The artwork "Sans titre" from 1961 beautifully showcases Marcelle Ferron's renowned abstract expressionist style, which has made her a prominent figure in the art scenes of Quebec and France. Her talent and artistic vision are particularly celebrated in 2024, marking the one-hundredth anniversary of her birth. An active member of the avant-garde group "Les Automatistes", Ferron was a signatory to the 1948 "Refus global" (“Global Refusal”). This manifesto was a call to unfetter artistic and cultural expression in the province and the document of the tumultuous late 1940s cultural ferment in Quebec.

In Paris from 1953-1966, Ferron moved away from the Surrealist patterns central to "Les Automatistes" to develop immediately recognizable paintings such as "Sans titre". Grounded in her expressive facility with paint, Ferron’s strong gestures with the palette knife suggest the physical labour of the hand and arm and thus her full involvement in the painting. Dramatically yet without violence, forms tear into and across one another. We see this effect in the red, brown, and white form in the bottom centre. Her pigment is often thick, creating a topography of forms that we note especially in the corners of this canvas. If we add her propensity for high-keyed colour, as a whole "Sans titre" presents a collection of puzzle pieces in motion. We know and appreciate that they will not find stasis in a conventional picture but instead generate infinite transmutations before our eyes.

Ferron is also known for her public artworks. As well as imbibing international painterly techniques in Paris, she was inspired by French glass artist Michel Blum and brought his innovations back to Montreal. Ferron’s large and colourful stained glass installations were part of the International Trade Centre at Expo 67, for example, and can be enjoyed today in the Champ-de-Mars metro station in Montreal (installed in 1968). Different in medium and scale, there is nonetheless a bond between Ferron’s paintings and her public stained glass installations. Her abstract art is a way of life rather than a choice of style.

Mark A. Cheetham has written extensively on Canadian artists, including Jack Chambers, Alex Colville, Robert Houle, and Camille Turner, most recently in the collection "Unsettling Canadian Art History" (2022). He is a freelance writer and curator and 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.