Forgotten! Scott, Brandtner, Eveleigh, Webber : Revisiting Montreal Abstraction of the 1940s


September 2023 to January 2024

Artists : MARIAN DALE SCOTT, FRITZ BRANDTNER, HENRY EVELEIGH ET GORDON WEBBER
Curator : ESTHER TRÉPANIER

 

 

Four artists who are today relatively or almost entirely unknown – one woman and three men – played a part in the aesthetic upheavals that led in 1940s Montreal toward abstraction. Very active in the art milieu throughout the decade, Marian Dale Scott, Fritz Brandtner, Henry Eveleigh and Gordon Webber captured the attention of critics of the time, who employed the term “abstract art” to describe both non-objective works and bold formal explorations that retained some reference to visible reality.

These artists’ works reflected their openness to international contemporary art trends of the period – French, German, British and American. However, the stylistic unity displayed by the Automatistes, led by Paul-Émile Borduas, furthered the ascendancy of this group’s view of abstraction as a kind of unplanned visual writing arising from the spontaneous impulse of an initial gesture. Combined with the revolutionary tone of their 1948 manifesto Refus global, this established the Automatistes as Quebec’s abstract avant-garde, with the result that other approaches to abstraction being pursued at the time were relegated to the background.The aim of this exhibition is to reinstate the oeuvres of these forgotten protagonists in the narrative of abstract art and to illustrate how their practices were inspired by diverse sources and encompassed a variety of themes: emotion, science, human experience in the broadest sense, but also the violence that marked their era.

 


A word must be said about the works on view. An artwork is composed of materials – canvas, paper, paint – that alter over time. Some works survive relatively unchanged, but others age less well and can pose conservation problems: flaking or loss of material, damage to the support, lifting of the paint layer, changes to the surface. Such works require restoration, which is costly, and unfortunately the museums, institutions and individuals concerned do not always have access to the necessary funds. Mounting an exhibition of artists long neglected can be particularly challenging: since they are less well known, their works have often not undergone needed conservation treatments. But the goal of such an exhibition is to bring them into public view, so inevitably certain works in less than ideal condition will hang alongside others that have been expertly restored. Finally, several pieces are either too fragile to travel or cannot be moved, such as public murals. In a few cases, these are represented in the exhibition by a photograph.

 


This exhibition is produced and circulated by the Musée d’art de Joliette with the financial support of the Government of Canada and the City of Joliette.