Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Paul-ÉMile Borduas: A Critical Biography

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Paul-ÉMile Borduas: A Critical Biography

Article excerpt

François-Marc Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas: A Critical Biography (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2013), 596 pp. 201 full-colour illustr. Cased. £50. ISBN 978-0-7735-4189-4.

It is not at all uncommon for once spurned artists to end up in their nation's cultural pantheon. Even so, it is a little extraordinary that just thirty years elapsed between Paul-Emile Borduas provoking outrage in Quebec with Refus global (and suffering the consequences) and the creation of the prestigious prize named after him. What's more, there's a certain poetic justice in the fact that Refus global is, with hindsight, seen as a defining moment in the immense sociopolitical shift that would shortly allow for Borduas's apotheosis. But, of course, Borduas's reputation does not rest solely on his challenging manifesto. His most potent legacy is his paintings, especially perhaps the iconic black and white paintings done in Paris immediately before his death in 1960.

Gagnon's handsome book is an updated, revised and translated version of one first published in 1978. (The elegant, sensitive translation is by Peter Feldstein.) As the most eminent scholar of Borduas and the Automatiste movement, and with a lifetime of published research behind him, Gagnon has brought to his study an intimate knowledge not only of the artist's work but also of his correspondence and other writings. This enables him to provide compelling insight into the development of Borduas's ideas and theories, and into his state of mind. The study is well illustrated. However, it does not purport to be a catalogue raisonné. In a move that is undoubtedly a sign of our times, the reader is invited to go to http://borduascatalog.org to view those paintings discussed or alluded to in the text but not reproduced there. …

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