Artwork by Marcelle Ferron,  Arbre du Ténéré, 1962
Thumbnail of Artwork by Marcelle Ferron,  Arbre du Ténéré, 1962 Thumbnail of Artwork by Marcelle Ferron,  Arbre du Ténéré, 1962 Thumbnail of Artwork by Marcelle Ferron,  Arbre du Ténéré, 1962

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

Lot #15

Marcelle Ferron
Arbre du Ténéré, 1962

oil on canvas
signed lower left; titled "L'Arbre du Ténare" [sic] and dated 1962 (twice) on the stretcher
63.75 x 51 in ( 161.9 x 129.5 cm )

Auction Estimate: $500,000.00$300,000.00 - $500,000.00

Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg
Private Collection, Vancouver
Marcelle Ferron was a pioneer of abstraction and public stained glass installations in Quebec. On the one-hundredth anniversary of her birth, it is fitting to honour her contributions and to experience the lasting power of her painting anew.

Ferron enjoyed considerable acclaim in Quebec and internationally during her lifetime. She was a central member of the Montreal avant- garde group "Les Automatistes" from 1946. Alongside the leader of this group and her mentor, Paul-Émile Borduas, and with other leading reformers, Ferron was a signatory to the 1948 manifesto "Refus global" (“Global Refusal”). The document was a powerful call to unfetter and modernize artistic, cultural, and social expression in the province. Like so many fellow artists at this juncture, Ferron left Quebec for Paris, where she lived from 1953 to 1966. She received the silver medal at the Biennale of São Paulo, Brazil in 1961 and was named Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Quebec in 2000. Ferron was the first woman to be awarded the Paul-Émile Borduas Prize in 1983.

Ferron’s pedigree should not distract us from the radicality of her work, its liberatory purpose and its lasting effect. Painted in France, "Arbre du Ténéré" is typical of the concentrated yet joyful intensity of her abstract painting. A remarkably varied kaleidoscope of colourful forms dance irrepressibly across the surface. The tonal range is equally dramatic, yet no element, no dark or light or saturated colour dominates.

"Arbre du Ténéré" reminds us of the power of expressive abstract painting to embody resistance not only to aesthetic conventions but also to personal and social restraints. We can readily perceive this effect within the frame, so to speak, experiencing only the formal aspects of the painting. But what of Ferron’s evocative title? Like many abstract artists in the mid-20th century, she often resorted to the placeholder ‘sans titre,’ perhaps to underline that we should dwell on what we can see in a painting rather than follow the literary implications of its title. Yet ‘L'Arbre du Ténare[sic]’ must also allude to a world-famous tree, the Tree of Ténéré in the desert of Niger in Africa.

Until it was hit by a car and felled in 1973, this ancient acacia tree was a monument to solitary survival. For generations, it was the only tree in hundreds of square kilometres of the Sahara Desert. The renowned tree was still living when Ferron painted this work, leading us to wonder why she titled this painting as she did. It would be too literal to think that she depicted the tree, but we can imagine a connection between what we see in the painting itself and the tenacity and living dynamism of abstraction, and of art generally, in the world.

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.
Sale Date: May 30th 2024

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

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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.