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Paul-Émile Borduas

Paul-Émile Borduas

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Paul-Émile Borduas was a Canadian
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 known for his abstract
Abstract art
Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an...

 paintings. He was also an activist for the separation of church and state, especially for art, in Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....



Borduas was born on November the first, 1905, in Saint-Hilaire, Quebec (a small village 50 kilometers from Montréal). He was the fourth child of Magloire Borduas and Éva Perrault. As a child he engaged in bricolage - his first known artistic activity. He received five years of formal elementary school education, (which ended at the age of twelve) and some private lessons from a village resident. Fortuitously, Borduas met Ozias Leduc in the winter of 1921-1922, and Leduc agreed to take the young artist under his wing. At the age of sixteen he became an apprentice to Ozias Leduc
Ozias Leduc
Ozias Leduc is one of Quebec's early painters. He was born in Saint-Hilaire-de-Rouville. Leduc produced many portraits, still lives and landscapes, as well as religious works.-Biography:...

, who was a church painter and decorator. Leduc provided Borduas with a basic artistic training, teaching him how to restore and decorate churches. Leduc arranged for Borduas' instruction at the École Technique, in 1919, in Sherbrooke, Québec. In 1923, assisted by a scholarship Leduc had secured for him, he enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal
École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal
École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal was an educational institution founded in Quebec in 1922. The Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society was instrumental in its creation....

, continuing to work for Leduc at the same time. He received prizes for his paintings at both of these institutions. Despite discord between Borduas and the school administration, he continued his studies at Leduc's urgings ..

Upon graduation in 1927 Borduas was hired by the Montréal Catholic School Board as a high school art teacher. In January 1929 he began studies at the Ateliers d'Art Sacré in Paris, which he left to pursue church decoration work of Rambucourt, in the Meuse Valley, with Pierre Dubois in April. He returned to Saint-Hilaire in June 1930 (his funds being depleted), began teaching part-time, and in 1933 returned to teaching high school for the Catholic School Board of Montréal. In 1937 Borduas began teaching at l'École du Meuble. This was an important time in Borduas' life: «by meeting young men of his own generation with the same tastes and the same need for action, he finally discovered a stimulating intellectual and social environment».

In 1938 he encountered John Lyman
John Goodwin Lyman
John Goodwin Lyman was a Canadian modernist painter active largely in Montreal. In the 1930s he did much to promote modern art in Canada, founding the Contemporary Art Society in 1939...

, a Montréal painter and critic, at the first exhibition of one of Borduas' paintings. Lyman encouraged Borduas' involvement with the Contemporary Arts Society, and in January 1938 he was elected vice-president of this group. In 1941 he resumed painting after several years of study and teaching, during which time he and a group of students had met regularly to discuss recent trends in European art. His first abstract paintings date from this year, and in April 1942 he exhibited forty-five gouaches inspired by the abstract surrealism of Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Joan Miró i Ferrà was a Spanish Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramicist born in Barcelona.Earning international acclaim, his work has been interpreted as Surrealism, a sandbox for the subconscious mind, a re-creation of the childlike, and a manifestation of Catalan pride...

. He became increasingly involved with about a dozen of his students, and they became known collectively as the Automatistes
Les Automatistes
Les Automatistes were a group of Québécois artistic dissidents from Montreal, Quebec. The movement was founded in the early 1940s by painter Paul-Émile Borduas. "Les Automatistes" were so called because they were influenced by Surrealism and its theory of automatism...

for their attempts to paint with pure psychic automatism as per the writings of André Breton
André Breton
André Breton was a French writer and poet. He is known best as the founder of Surrealism. His writings include the first Surrealist Manifesto of 1924, in which he defined surrealism as "pure psychic automatism"....

. In January 1946, the first group exhibit of Borduas and his students was held in New York City, followed in April by an exhibit in Montreal. This was the first exhibit by a group of abstract painters in Canada. A second Montreal exhibit followed in February–March 1947. A critic, responding to this exhibit, coined the name "Automatists" for the group, after Borduas' painting Automatisme 1.47.

Borduas wrote Refus Global
Refus Global
Le Refus global, or Total Refusal, was an anti-establishment and anti-religious manifesto released on August 9, 1948 in Montreal by a group of sixteen young Québécois artists and intellectuals that included Paul-Émile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle....

(or "Global Refusal", anglicized) in late 1947- early 1948. It was disseminated in a folder that contained other Automatists' writings. This piece was originally intended to accompany an Automatist showing, however it was actually distributed alone. "Global Refusal" served as an important manifesto that advocated the separation of church and state in Quebec, especially for the arts. In it Borduas "denounces the forces of oppression that had made of Quebec a suffocating environment. hostile to both individual and collective creativity".

We foresee a future in which man is freed from useless chains,
to realize a plenitude of individual gifts, in necessary
unpredictability, spontaneity and resplendent anarchy. Until
then, without surrender or rest, in community of feeling with
those who thirst for better life, without fear of set-backs, in
encouragement or persecution, we shall pursue in joy our
overwhelming need for liberation.

The manifesto has been considered to be one of the primary causes of the Quiet Revolution
Quiet Revolution
The Quiet Revolution was the 1960s period of intense change in Quebec, Canada, characterized by the rapid and effective secularization of society, the creation of a welfare state and a re-alignment of politics into federalist and separatist factions...

 in Quebec. Four hundred copies went on sale August 9, 1948. Borduas was dismissed from l'École du Meuble on September 2 as a direct result of his involvement in this social critique. Even those who had tired of the repressive Duplessis régime, and advocated great social changes in Québec, were reluctant to back Borduas' thorough condemnation of the Catholic Church—such a central influence on the French Canadian populace.

Borduas was ostracized, he was unable to attain employment and this was necessarily problematic as he was a father. He decided to take matters into his own hands. Borduas produced another piece in his defence, «Projections Libérantes» («Liberating Projections»), which he completed in February 1949. Unfortunately, this more moderate composition, which clearly communicated Borduas' intentions in releasing «Refus Global», was not enthusiastically received by the public or the presses.

In 1955 he moved back to Paris where he died of a heart attack in 1960.


  • Since 1977, the Prix du Québec
    Prix du Québec
    The Prix du Québec are awards given by the Government of Quebec to individuals for cultural and scientific achievements. Founded in 1977, the government annually awards six awards in the cultural field and five in the scientific field.- Cultural awards :...

     in visual arts is named: Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas
    Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas
    The Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas is an award by the Government of Quebec that is part of the Prix du Québec, given to individuals who are artists or craftsman in the fields of visual arts, of the trades of art, architecture and the design...

  • 1998, Prix Condorcet
    Prix Condorcet
    Prix Condorcet was instituted in 1993 by the Mouvement laïque québécois to honour a public personality who had worked for the defense of secularity and freedom of thought...

     to All signatories of Refus Global
    Refus Global
    Le Refus global, or Total Refusal, was an anti-establishment and anti-religious manifesto released on August 9, 1948 in Montreal by a group of sixteen young Québécois artists and intellectuals that included Paul-Émile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle....


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