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LOT 013

Jean Albert McEwen

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AANFM RCA
1923 - 1999
Canadian

Le drapeau inconnu—4e thème, no. 21
oil on canvas
on verso signed, titled on the gallery label, dated février 1964, inscribed "21" / "repris - avril 82" / "quatrième thème no. 21" and stamped indistinctly
52 x 46 in, 132.1 x 116.8 cm

CAD

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

PROVENANCE
Gallery Moos, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Canadian Post-War & Contemporary Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 19, 2008, lot 7
Acquired from the above by an Important Private Collection, Montreal

LITERATURE
Constance Naubert-Riser, Jean McEwen, Colour in Depth: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1951 - 1987, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1987, reproduced page 93

EXHIBITED
Gallery Moos, Toronto, The Unknown Flags, April 9 - 30, 1964
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Jean McEwen, Colour in Depth: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1951 - 1987, December 11, 1987 - January 24, 1988, catalogue #42

The circumstances that were at the origin of the series of paintings entitled Le drapeau inconnu (The Unknown Flag) by Jean McEwen are well known. One should recall that the year before this painting was done, bitter discussions took place at the House of Commons about the Canadian flag, and nobody could agree on a common image. It was then decided to solicit the collaboration of artists. The magazine Canadian Art, which sponsored the competition, received no less than 789 replies! McEwen sent his own proposal, but it was not accepted. If it had been, we would have been the only country in the world with an abstract painting as a flag.

McEwen took this pretext to develop a whole series of paintings on different themes, which were understood as formal patterns rather than content. The central motif is a cruciform, as in Le drapeau inconnu – 4e thème, no. 21. The great Russian abstractionist Kazimir Malevich was attracted to the same motif, as in Black Cross, 1915; Black Cross on Red Oval, 1920 - 1927; and Suprematism (White Cross on Grey), 1920 - 1927. The challenge was not to give any religious or mystical meaning to this symbol, as Malevich was working in communist Russia. McEwen also did not want to give a religious overtone to his painting - after all, it was a design for a flag - and succeeded in suggesting a form independent of the cross in its religious sense, by making the vertical orange rectangle wider than the black one, and by giving them both a symmetry that we do not find in an ordinary crucifix, where the vertical is always longer than the horizontal.

What is so striking in the McEwen painting, other than this, is the intensity of the colour obtained by applying a layer of varnish to the canvas, and then proceeding to add the oil layer with the palette knife and by hand. This gives transparency to the orange and the red over the layer of black underneath. The result is both extremely painterly – the artist’s presence is very much felt because he used his bare hands to apply the colour – and dramatic.

When studying in Paris from 1951 to 1952, McEwen, encouraged by Paul-Émile Borduas, befriended Jean Paul Riopelle, and through him met Sam Francis and other American expatriates. He discovered the colour-field painters, for whom colour was more important than form, and Monet, the greater master than Picasso. French critics did not know what to do with them and created the word nuagisme to describe their painting, from the word nuage, which in French means "cloud." In fact, Le drapeau inconnu – 4e thème, no. 21 is not without affinity for the work of another great American painter, Mark Rothko, who also wanted to reintroduce the tragic in abstract art, not by form but by colour. In this painting the intense vibrations created by the black layers underneath give a certain fragility to the red and the orange, as if they could dissipate in a moment. Maybe we are not so far from mysticism after all.

We thank the late François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay in 2008.

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business. Bidders must ensure they have satisfied themselves with the condition of the Lot prior to bidding. Condition reports are available upon request.

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[ translate ]

AANFM RCA
1923 - 1999
Canadian

Le drapeau inconnu—4e thème, no. 21
oil on canvas
on verso signed, titled on the gallery label, dated février 1964, inscribed "21" / "repris - avril 82" / "quatrième thème no. 21" and stamped indistinctly
52 x 46 in, 132.1 x 116.8 cm

CAD

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

PROVENANCE
Gallery Moos, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Canadian Post-War & Contemporary Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 19, 2008, lot 7
Acquired from the above by an Important Private Collection, Montreal

LITERATURE
Constance Naubert-Riser, Jean McEwen, Colour in Depth: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1951 - 1987, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1987, reproduced page 93

EXHIBITED
Gallery Moos, Toronto, The Unknown Flags, April 9 - 30, 1964
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Jean McEwen, Colour in Depth: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1951 - 1987, December 11, 1987 - January 24, 1988, catalogue #42

The circumstances that were at the origin of the series of paintings entitled Le drapeau inconnu (The Unknown Flag) by Jean McEwen are well known. One should recall that the year before this painting was done, bitter discussions took place at the House of Commons about the Canadian flag, and nobody could agree on a common image. It was then decided to solicit the collaboration of artists. The magazine Canadian Art, which sponsored the competition, received no less than 789 replies! McEwen sent his own proposal, but it was not accepted. If it had been, we would have been the only country in the world with an abstract painting as a flag.

McEwen took this pretext to develop a whole series of paintings on different themes, which were understood as formal patterns rather than content. The central motif is a cruciform, as in Le drapeau inconnu – 4e thème, no. 21. The great Russian abstractionist Kazimir Malevich was attracted to the same motif, as in Black Cross, 1915; Black Cross on Red Oval, 1920 - 1927; and Suprematism (White Cross on Grey), 1920 - 1927. The challenge was not to give any religious or mystical meaning to this symbol, as Malevich was working in communist Russia. McEwen also did not want to give a religious overtone to his painting - after all, it was a design for a flag - and succeeded in suggesting a form independent of the cross in its religious sense, by making the vertical orange rectangle wider than the black one, and by giving them both a symmetry that we do not find in an ordinary crucifix, where the vertical is always longer than the horizontal.

What is so striking in the McEwen painting, other than this, is the intensity of the colour obtained by applying a layer of varnish to the canvas, and then proceeding to add the oil layer with the palette knife and by hand. This gives transparency to the orange and the red over the layer of black underneath. The result is both extremely painterly – the artist’s presence is very much felt because he used his bare hands to apply the colour – and dramatic.

When studying in Paris from 1951 to 1952, McEwen, encouraged by Paul-Émile Borduas, befriended Jean Paul Riopelle, and through him met Sam Francis and other American expatriates. He discovered the colour-field painters, for whom colour was more important than form, and Monet, the greater master than Picasso. French critics did not know what to do with them and created the word nuagisme to describe their painting, from the word nuage, which in French means "cloud." In fact, Le drapeau inconnu – 4e thème, no. 21 is not without affinity for the work of another great American painter, Mark Rothko, who also wanted to reintroduce the tragic in abstract art, not by form but by colour. In this painting the intense vibrations created by the black layers underneath give a certain fragility to the red and the orange, as if they could dissipate in a moment. Maybe we are not so far from mysticism after all.

We thank the late François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay in 2008.

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business. Bidders must ensure they have satisfied themselves with the condition of the Lot prior to bidding. Condition reports are available upon request.

[ translate ]
Sale price
Unlock
Estimate
Unlock
Time, Location
23 Nov 2023
Canada
Auction House
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