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The Automatist Years; 1941-1953

The Automatist Years: 1941 - 1953

     In the nineteen forties Borduas began to participate in more exhibitions. In addition to the annual events of Contemporary Art Society, he participated in the exhibition of the Canadian Group of Painters in 1942, held in Toronto and Montreal. He had his first solo exhibition, Œuvres surréalistes de Paul-Émile Borduas, that same year at the Hermitage in Montreal. He participated in the exhibition Aspects of Contemporary Painting in Canada, which circulated to several Canadian and American cities from 1942 until 1944.

     Interested in current international artistic practice, Borduas took a study trip of ten days to New York in 1943. He saw some of his paintings included in the L'exposition d'art canadien au Brésil exhibition of 1944 - 1945 in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo, and in the Contemporary Canadian Art exhibition which traveled through the United States from 1944 till 1946. In May 1945, the Borduas family moved to Saint-Hilaire to a large and beautiful house built by the artist.

     On the 15th of February 1947, a presentation reassembling the paintings of Borduas and those of Marcel Barbeau, Roger Fauteux, Pierre Gauvreau, Fernand Leduc and Jean-Paul Mousseau was organized at the apartment of the Gauvreau brothers in Montreal. A critic described them using the term Automatist (1). The group was then invited to participate in the Cahier des Arts graphiques published in May; they were also invited to participate in an exhibition, Automatisme, at the Galerie du Luxembourg, in Paris, at a moment when the artistic landscape of Quebec was taking a decisive turn.

     In February 1948, the first exhibition of Prisme d'yeux was held, during which the painter Alfred Pellan launched the manifesto of the same title. On August 9th, the Refus Global was published: comprised of ten texts, including the manifesto of the same title by Borduas, signed by 15 members (2) of the group. Less than a month later, Borduas was suspended from his position as teacher at the École du meuble. Now unemployed, Borduas realized the importance and necessity of promoting and selling his work. He worked hard to increase his visibility and managed to take part in about thirty two exhibitions in a twenty five month period. These were difficult years, for the artist and his family, and they resulted in a painful separation for the couple. This troublesome period ended in April 1952, when Borduas presented the exhibition Dernière exposition – des derniers tableaux at la maison de Saint-Hilaire.


    1. Tancrède Marsil fils, Les Automatistes. L'école Borduas. Le Quartier Latin, 28 février 1947, p. 3

    2. Magdeleine Arbour, Marcel Barbeau, Bruno Cormier, Claude Gauvreau, Pierre Gauvreau, Muriel Guilbault, Marcelle Ferron-Hamelin, Fernand Leduc, Thérèse Leduc, Jean-Paul Mousseau, Maurice Perron, Louise Renaud, Françoise Riopelle, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Françoise Sullivan.