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Jean McEwen

Born1923, Montreal, Quebec

Died 1999, Montreal, Quebec

McEwen was interested in painting and the qualities of colour from an early age. He attended the School of Pharmacy the University of Montreal but abandoned that path after encouragement by fellow Quebec artist Paul-Emile Borduas. McEwen spent three years in Paris, associated there with Jean Paul Riopelle and Sam Francis, and solidified his style and beliefs as a modernist by exhibiting in Montreal, Toronto and New York. He had a solo show at the Tate Gallery in London in 1963, and his work can be found in many private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Confederation Art Centre in Charlottetown, and Hart House, University of Toronto.

 

Curriculum Vitae

 

1923    Born in Montreal on December 14th, of a Scottish father and French-Canadian mother.  Studies at Collège Mont-Saint-Louis and at the University of Montreal, in Pharmacy.

 

1944  A deep interest in poetry brings him in contact with the group of students in the circle of the Quebec writer, François Hertel.  McEwen’s poems are published in literary journals such as Le quartier latin, Amérique française, and Gants du ciel.

 

1946  McEwen sees the film The Moon and Sixpence, from the Somerset Maugham novel based on on the life and work of of Paul Gauguin. The coincidence proves to be decisive, bringing with it the revelation of painting as a means of expression, as well as the realisation that, like Gauguin, whose early career combined painting with a position at the stock exchange, one could be a painter and still pursue another career.  With the purchase of art supplies and books on painters like Matisse, Picasso, Pellan, and Borduas, McEwen becomes self-taught, working initially as a figurative painter at the fringes of the Montreal art scene, and simultaneously completing his degree in Pharmacy.  In 1947 he marries Louise Lebeau.

 

1949  Sends the painting Nature morte aux ananas (Still Life with Pinapple) to the 66th annual Spring Salon at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  Acceptance of the painting leads to contact – and a enduring relationship – with Paul-Émile Borduas, whom he visits regularly at the latter’s residence in Saint Hilaire, just outside Montreal.  Borduas becomes a major influence, and leads to formal experimentation, still defined by the parameters of figuration.  Abstraction remains three years ahead.

 

1951  First solo exhibition at the Galerie Agnès Lefort in Montreal, in March.  A favourable review in La Presse encourages the young artist to undertake a stay in Paris.  The critic’s suggestion is seconded by Borduas, who advises McEwen to get in touch with Jean-Paul Riopelle, living in Paris since 1946. McEwen quits his job as a druggist and leaves for France in the fall.

 

1952  In Paris, an extraordinary series of encounters, most particularly friendships formed with Riopelle and with the American abstract expressionist Sam Francis, along with exposure to the work of Jackson Pollock and his contemporaries, not to mention travels to other European centres, lead to profound changes in McEwen’s work.  Most decisive is an extended vacation with Riopelle and his family on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer, off the Brittany coast.

 

1953  Returning to Montreal, McEwen takes up a position as sales representative with the Frosst pharmaceutical company.  He particaptes in group exhibitions in Montreal, and has a solo exhibition in Ottawa.

 

1954  His solo exhibition at Galerie Agnes Lefort is favourably received, but McEwen decides to break with his current style of painting which he now judges too close to that of Borduas. 

 

1955   New work, the fruit of a new approach, is shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in a group exhibition of avant-garde, non-figurative paintings organized by Gilles Corbeil, which includes works by Paterson Ewen, Jean-Paul Mousseau, Rita Letendre, Ulysse Comtois and Guido Molinari.  The same year McEwen participates in a historic exhibition at the Galerie l’actuelle, opened by Guido Molinari and Fernande Saint-Martin with the avowed purpose of promoting non-figurative painting.  Later that year, work exhibited in another group exhibition organized by Molinari elicits critical acclaim in Le Devoir that links McEwen to the cutting edge of contemporary American art.

 

1956  McEwen becomes a member of  the newly-founded Montreal Association of Non-figurative Artists.  During the year his recent white monochromes are exhibited in group exhibitions in both Montreal and New York.  In the fall, a one-man show of these works held at the Galerie Agnès Lefort leads to a rupture with that gallery, whose owner, although a defender of the Montreal avant-garde, does not feel she can support work as unconventional as McEwen’s.  In 1957, he participates in a number of group and travelling exhibitions.

 

1958  McEwen, who has now reintroduced colour into his work, has two solo exhibitions at the Galerie Denyse Delrue in Montreal:  in January, the series Marges  (Margins), and in December, the series Cellules (Cells).  In 1959, he takes part in the third biennale of Canadian art at the National Gallery in Ottawa.  In 1960, he has a one-man show in the Gallery XII of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and is elected president of the Montreal Association of Non-figurative Artists.  During the summer of that year, on vacation in Maine, he executes his first artist’s book of poems accompanied by images.

 

1961  McEwen has his first, enormously successful, solo exhibition at the Gallery Moos in Toronto.  He also participates in four group exhibitions, three in Montreal and one, “25 Quebec Painters,” at the Stratford Festival in Ontario.  He receives a number of  awards:  first prize in the province of Quebec’s artists’ competition; a Canada Council award, and the Hadassah prize.  First summer vacation on Prince Edward Island, where it becomes the artist’s habit to work in watercolur.

 

1962  Walter Moos introduces McEwen to the New York art dealer, Martha Jackson who purchases and number of works, and proposes a one-man show for the following year.  He has another exhibition with Walter Moos in Toronto, as well as one at the Galerie Agnès Lefort in Montreal.  Group exhibitions in 1962 include pariticpation in shows of Canadian art in Bordeaux, France at at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York; an exhibition of British Commonwealth art in London; an exhibition of contemporary painting in Johannesberg, South Africa; and the “Recent Acquisitons” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

 

1963  The artist reduces his hours of work at Frosst to devote more time to painting.  A solo exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York City in February, and the purchase of two works by the Museum of Modern Art lead to participation in a number group and travelling exhibitions in North America and Europe:  at the University of Illinois, the University of Richester, at the Arwin Galleries in Detroit, Michigan and in the exhibition “Fifteen Canadian Artists” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York;  in the Dunn International Exhibition held consecutively at the Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredricton and the Tate Gallery in London, and in Cinq peintres canadiens at the Musée Galliera in Paris, among others.  In 1963, McEwen also receives an honourable mention for his pariticpation in the Sao Paolo biennale and executes a mural commissioned by the architect John Parkin for the Toronto International Airport.  Discovery of Greek icons on a trip to Greece in the fall of 1963 prove a determinant factor in the further development of his work.

 

1964   McEwen executes the widely acclaimed series, Les Drapeaux inconnus (Unknown Flags), which are exhibited at the Gallery Moos in Toronto, and at the Galerie Anderson Meyer in Paris.   One of these works is presented in the International salon of the Musée de Dijon, in France.  A new series, Hommage au soleil (Hommage to the Sun), inspired by a trip to Majorca, is exhibited in latge Fall at the Galerie Agnès Lefort in Montreal.

 

1965  An important turning point in McEwen’s development leads to the adoption of acrylic, rather than oil as a medium, and the espousal of  hard-edge techniques current in American painting of the sixties.  The series Hommage aux poètes (Hommage to the Poets), executed in this new manner and bearing titles taken from the works of poets such as Beaudelaire and Valéry, is exhibited at the Gallery Moos, Toronto.   Group exhibitions include the continuation of  the travelling show “Fifteen Canadian Artists” organized by the Museum of Modern Art, the sixth biennale of Canadian painting at the National Gallery in Ottawa and the Spring salon at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  He also receives a Canada Council Award.

 

1966  McEwen moves his studio from his home in Outremont to a space on Saint Paul Street in Old Montreal, on the top floor of a building he shares with Montreal painters Charles Gagnon and Yves Gaucher.  He executes a commissioned mural for Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University).  He paints the large format acrylic series Les muses (The Muses). An exhibition, “Jean McEwen, Harold Town” organized by the National Gallery of Canada travels accross Canada.  McEwen also takes part in the exhibition Vingt-cinq ans de libération de l’oeil et du geste at the Musée du Québec in Quebec City.

 

1967  The painter executes a mural for the Port Royal Theatre in the Place des Arts, Montreal’s new cultural complex, and has a solo exhibition at the Galerie Agnès Lefort in Montreal as well as one at the Gallery Moos in Toronto.  Group exhibitions include Panorama de la peinture au Québec 1940-1966 at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal, “300 Years of Canadian Painting” at the National Gallery in Ottawa, “Painting in Canada” in the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67 and the “Ontario Centennial Exhibition” at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

 

1968  McEwen participates in the Sondage68 exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and in the exhibition Dix peintres du Québec held consecutively at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal and the Musée du Québec in Quebec City.  In 1969 McEwen is elected member of the Royal Canadian Academy and in December of that year has a solo exhibition at the Galerie Jolliet in Quebec City, which marks the end of his use of acrylic paint as well as of his affiliation with American hard edge. In 1970, he participates in two group exhibitions: L’art au Québec 1948-1970 at Man and his World  and Grands formats at the Musée d’art Contemporain in Montreal.

 

1971  McEwen’s abandonment of acrylic and his return to oil painting is marked by an exhibition of the important series Miroirs sans image (Mirrors with no Reflection) at the Galerie Godard Lefort in Montreal.  From 1971 on, watercolours executed while on vacation – usually in Prince Edward Island – take on an increasingly important role in the artist’s experiments with transparency.

 

1973  The artist resigns from Frosst in order to paint full time.  In January, he exhibits the series Das lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth), named after Gustav Mahler’s song cycle, at the Marlborough Godard Gallery in Toronto and produces a suite of four lithographs entitled Les quatre saisons (The Four Seasons).  In the Fall, a retrospective of his work McEwen 1953-1973, organized by Fernande Saint-Martin, is held at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal, and subsequently travels accross Canada.  He participates in an exhibition of works from the Canada Council Art Bank held at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.   

 

1974  He participates in the exhibition “Thirteen Artists from Marlborough Godard” held at the Marlborough Gallery in New York.

 

1975  An exhibition of the series Les continents fleuris (Continents in Bloom) is held at the Marlborough Godard Gallery in Toronto.  McEwen produces the artists’ book Les îles réunies (Reunited Islands), a suite of poems and silkscreen prints printed at the Centre de conception graphique Graff in Montreal.

 

1976  The series Les jardins d’aube (Gardens of the Dawn) is exhibited at the Marlborough Godard Gallery in Montreal, and a solo exhibition is held at the Equinox Gallery in Vancouver.  McEwen also participates in the exhibition Trois générations d’art québecois at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal.  In September he marries Indra Kagis.

 

1977  In March an exhibition of the series Épithalames (Epithalamia – “Wedding hymns”) is held at the Marlborough Godard Gallery in Toronto.  In these works the artist reestablishes a connection with the white monochromes of 1955-56.  McEwen also receives the Victor Lynch Staunton Award with which the Canada Council honours the Canada’s most distinguished artists.  This award finances work in Paris from September 1977 to June 1978.  In March of 1978, the series Les temples heureux (Temples of Joy) is exhibited at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto.  The same spring a particularly luminous series of works, La suite parisienne (Parisian Suite), executed in Paris, is exhibited at the Canadian Cultural Centre there. 

1979  Mira Godard exhibits the Suite Parisienne in Toronto.  Holidays in Prince Edward Island result in a new crop of watercolours.  He produces a third artists’ book of poems illustrated with watercolour vignettes. 

 

1980  McEwen accepts an appointment as sessional lecturer in the Fine Arts Deparment at L’Université du Québec à Trois Rivières.  A solo exhibition of recent work is held at the Galerie Jolliet in Quebec City, and another in Calgary at the Mira Godard Gallery.

 

1981  McEwen continues to teach at Trois Rivières.  The series Les champs colorés (Colour Fields) is exhibited by Mira Godard at her gallery in Toronto in the early spring and in her Calgary gallery in the late fall. In Decmber 1981 through January 1982, a number of white monochromes from 1955-56 as well as other early paintings are exhibited in Les tableaux oubliés de Jean McEwen held at the Galerie Jolliet in Montreal.

 

1982  In January, an exhibitions of recent works are held at the Galerie Jolliet in Quebec City and at Concordia University in Montreal.  In December, he has a solo show at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto.

 

1983  McEwen accepts a sessional lectureship in painting at Concordia University.  He takes part in an exhibition on the Montreal Association of Non-figurative Artists, organized by Sandra Paikowsky, and exhibits the series Les plaintes d’un Icare (Laments of an Icarus) at the Galerie Jolliet in Montreal.

 

1984  An exhibition of works, “Jean McEwen:  Thirty Years,” is held at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto.  

 

1985  McEwen participates in the exhibition Six manières, un language at the Musée du Québec, Quebec City.  In December the series Le drapeau écorché (The Disembowelled Flag) is exhibited at the Galerie Waddington-Gorce in Montreal.  McEwen reisgns his position at the Univeristy in Trois Rivières, but continues to teach at Concordia.  He is awarded a Canada Council grant.  Group exhibitions include paritcipation in the travelling exhibition “Montreal Painters:  A Second Look,” organized jointly by the Memorial University Art Gallery in St. John’s Newfoundland and by Sandra Paikowsky of Concordia University and in Le Muée imaginaire de . . . at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in Montreal.  In 1986, a second suite of “Disembowelled Flags” is exhibited at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto.

 

1987  A retrospective of McEwen’s work, “Jean McEwen:  Colour in Depth” is held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (December 1987 - January 1988) in an exhibition guest curated by Constance Naubert-Riser, professor of Art History at the University of Montreal.  McEwen also pariticpates in the group show Histoire en quatre temps at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal.  In parallel with his Museum retrospective, a series entitled Elegies criblées de bleu (Elegies Shot Through with Blue) is exhibited in January 1988 at the Galerie Waddington-Gorce in Montreal.  In the spring of  1988, he moves his studio from the building on Saint Paul Street in Old Montreal to an industrial building on the Lachine Canal in the west end of the city.

 

1990  An exhibition of the series L’Envers du paysage (At the Back of the Landscape) is held at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto.

 

1991  McEwen exhibits for the first time at the Galerie Madeleine Lacerte in Quebec City, where he shows two new series of paintings:  Absence au carré (Absence Squared) and Légende du oui et du non (A Tale of “Yes” and “No”).  A major commission for a mural installation at the new Scotiabank headquarters on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal consists of six panels and is installed as a triptych entitled En remontant les rouges (Ascending the Reds).   

 

1992  In January, McEwen suffers a heart attack and is operated for a double coronary bypass.  Late in the Fall, he exhibits a new series of works, Trou de mémoire (Lapse of Memory), at the Galerie Waddington-Gorce in Montreal.  Group exhibitions that year include Montréal 1942-1992: l’Arnarchie resplendissante de la peinture organized by the art critic Gilles Daigneault and held at the art gallery of L’Université du Québec à Montréal; “The Crisis of Abstraction in Canada:  the 1950’s,” a travelling exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Canada, as well as in another travelling exhibition entitled “The Advent of Modernity:  Abstract Painting and Design in Canada in the 1950’s.”

 

1993  McEwen has his first solo exhibition with the Ron Moore Gallery in Hamilton Ontario, as well as a one-man show at the Galerie Madeleine Lacerte in Quebec City.

 

1994   Publishes a new collection of poems, Petit cimetière d’une présence (Small Graveyard of a Presence).

 

1995  McEwen retires from Concordia University. He has his first exhibition at the Galerie Simon Blais in Montreal:  a retrospective of watercolours dating from 1951 to 1995.  The Art Sales and Rental Gallery of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts holds a McEwen watercolour exhibition later in the same year.  A solo exhibition of the series Cantates des colonnes (Column Cantatas) is held at the Galerie Madeleine Lacerte in Quebec City.

 

1997  Solo exhibition at the Moore Gallery in Toronto.  Exhibition Jean McEwen:  Oeuvres choisies 1952-1997 organized by the Galerie Simon Blais is held at the Galerie d’art l’Union-Vie in Drummondville.  McEwen executes De ma main à la couleur (From Hand to Colour), an artist’s book of poems and watercolours.

 

1998  “Jean McEwen:  Important Paintings from the 60’s and 70’s,” is exhibited in the Spring at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto.  McEwen participates in the critically acclaimed exhibition Peinture-peinture organized by the Montreal association of contemporary art dealers.  In November, solo exhibitions of works from the series Poèmes barbares (Poems Untamed) held concurrently at the Galerie Simon Blais in Montreal and the Galerie Madeleine Lacerte in Quebec City are accompanied by the publication of the monograph Jean McEwen:  Poèmes Barbares, which also includes a series of previously unpublished poems. In December, McEwen is presented with the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas, the province of Quebec’s most prestigious award for art.

 

1999  On January 9th, at the age of seventy-five, McEwen dies suddenly of heart failure at his home in Montreal. 

 

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

1951, 1954      Galerie Agnes Lefort, Montréal

1954                Galerie de l’art du livre, Ottawa

1956                Galerie l’actuelle, Montréal

1957, 1958      Galerie Denyse Delrue, Montréal

1960                Galerie Douze, Musée de Beaux arts de Montréal

1961, 1962      Galerie Moos, Toronto

1962, 1967      Galerie Agnes Lefort, Montréal

1963                Galerie Martha Jackson, New York

1964                Galerie Anderson Mayer, Paris

1964, 1965      Galerie Moos, Toronto

1969                Galerie Jolliet, Québec

1971, 1976      Galerie Marlborough-Godard, Montréal et Toronto

1973                Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal : travelling retrospective

1976                Equinox Gallery, Vancouver

1978                Centre culturel canadien, Paris

1979, 1982      Galerie Mira Godard, Toronto

1980, 1981      Galerie Jolliet, Québec et Montréal

1980                Galerie Mira Godard, Calgary

1982                Université Concordia, Montréal

1983                Galerie Jolliet, Montréal

1984                « Jean McEwen :  30 Years », Galerie Mira Godard, Toronto

1985                Galerie Waddington-Gorce, Montréal

1986                Galerie Mira Godard, Toronto

1987                Rétrospective :  Musée de Beaux-Arts de Montréal

1988                Galerie Waddington-Gorce, Montréal

1990                Galerie Mira Godard, Toronto

1991                Galerie Madeleine Lacerte, Québec

1992                Galerie Waddington-Gorce, Montréal

1993                Ron Moore Gallery, Hamilton, Ontario

1993                Galerie Madeleine Lacerte, Québec

1995                Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal

1995                Galerie Madeleine Lacerte, Québec

1997                Moore Gallery, Toronto

1998               « Jean McEwen :  Important paintings from th60’s and 70’s », Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto

1998                « Poèmes barbares », Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal

1998                « Poèmes barbares », Galerie Madeleine Lacerte, Québec Citty

 

POSTHUMOUS EXHIBITIONS

1999  Commemorative  exhibition, National Gallery of Canada, Feb-Mar. 1999,

2000  “Jean McEwen:  A Celebration,” Moore Gallery, Toronto.

2001 “Hommage à Jean McEwen,” La Maison Trestler, Vaudreuil, Québec. 

2001  “Comme une aquarelle,” works on paper , Galerie Simon Blais,,Montréal.

2003   « Jean McEwen, Selected work »,Winchester Galleries, Victoria, B.C.

2004   Retrospective, Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal.

2004  “Jean McEwen: Last Works,” Gallery One One One, University of Manitoba

2005  “Jean McEwen:  Watercolours,” Winchester Galleries, Victoria, B.C.

2005    “De ma main à la couleur,” series of 16 watercolours donated to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts,  exhibited April-August 2005.

2005  “Jean McEwen: Rhapsodie,” Maison des arts de Laval

2006  “Jean McEwen:  Selected Work,”  Winchester Galleries, Victoria, B.C.

2008    “The Poetical colour fields of Jean McEwen,” Winchester Galleries, Victoria, B.C.

2012    “La Seduction de l’acrylique,” Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal

2012   “Jean McEwen: Flags and other works,” Wionchester Galleries, Victoria B.C.

2014   “Toucher:  l’art poétique de Jean McEwen,” Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke

2015   “Jean McEwen: the acrylic edge.,” Wincehster Galleries, Victorria, B.C.

2015   “Jean McEwen: Feuilles aux yeux de pluie,” (watercolours), Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal

 

COLLECTIONS

Musée des Beaux Arts de Montréal

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

McGill University, Montréal

Concordia University, Montréal

Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec 

Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke, Québec

Musée régional de Rimouski, Québec

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa **

Carleton University Art Gallery

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Hart House, University of Toronto

Art Gallery of Hamilton

McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton

London Public Library and Art Museum

Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston

Winnipeg Art Gallery

Edmonton Art Gallery

Vancouver Art Gallery

Confederation Art Centre, Charlottetown

University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon

MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina

University of New Brunswick, Fredericton

Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton

Canada Council Art Bank

Société Radio Canada

Collection Desjardins

C.I.L. Collection

Toronto Dominion Bank

Bank of Nova Scotia

Museum of Modern Art New York

Albirght-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

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