Work & Bio

André Biéler

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, 1896
 / Died in Kingston Ontario, 1989

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Biography

 

André Biéler
1896 – 1989

“Over and over again I have sketched and painted people coming out of church after high mass, the characteristic pause before taking the long journey to the homestead. There is no hurry, it’s time to visit, time to get the news… again we see this essential quality, the slow rhythm of the movement must be expressed by the slow curve of the shoulders of the assembled men, and these curves can be repeated in the carriages… for me it is the line that expresses the mood of the scene.”
(André Biéler, date unknown)

A prolific artist, influential arts activist, and pioneering teacher, André Biéler brought a modernist approach to traditional subject matter in his paintings, prints, sculptures and murals. In his exuberant genre scenes of rural Quebec life, human figures appear in harmony with the landscape as they work in groups and gather around churches. Biéler’s vision of a national arts funding organization led, eventually, to the creation of the Canada Council.

Biéler studied at the Institut Technique de Montréal before enlisting in the Canadian Army to fight in World War I. Injured and badly gassed, he returned to Canada in 1919 and convalesced in Florida, where he took art classes with Harry Davis Fluhart. He subsequently accepted a veteran’s grant to study at the New York Art Students League in Woodstock, New York, under Charles Rosen and Eugene Speicher. Returning to Montreal, he met members of the Beaver Hall Group. From 1922 to 1926, Biéler lived primarily in Switzerland, where he apprenticed with his uncle, the painter and muralist Ernest Biéler. During this period, he spent several months in Paris, studying at the Académie Ranson under Maurice Denis and Paul Sérusier, and held his first solo exhibition in 1924 at the Montreal Art Association.

When Biéler returned permanently to Canada in 1926, he soon became immersed in the Quebec art scene and began a lifelong friendship with Edwin Holgate. His keen interest in traditional village society led him to settle for three years on the Île d’Orléans, where he began sketching the habitant life. It was during this time that he met A. Y. Jackson.

In 1930, Biéler moved back to Montreal and founded, along with John Lyman, the short-lived Atelier art school. He made frequent painting trips to the Laurentians and moved to Saint-Adèle for a year. In 1936, he took up a position as artist-in-residence at Queen’s University, Kingston, where he remained until his retirement in 1963. While teaching courses in art history, art appreciation, as well as studio art, he continued to be a highly productive artist in a variety of media. In 1941, he organized the first national artists’ conference, know as the Kingston Conference, which lead to the foundation of the Federation of Canadian Artists.

Biéler’s early work was greatly influenced by his uncle Ernest’s teachings; it reflects the fine drawing skills and attention to form required in stained glass, mosaic and fresco work. From the time he lived on the Île d’Orléans until 1947, he was a modernist regionalist, successfully fusing his love of shape and form with that of human subjects. This is evident in Gatineau Madonna (1940).

Bélier was a member of the Canadian Group of Painters and Royal Canadian Academy and, from 1957 to 1963, founding director of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. He developed a pneumatic, relief printing press and established The Twelve Pines Press. Bélier was the subject of 25 solo exhibitions and the recipient of the 1957 J. W. L. Forster Award from the Ontario Society of Artists, as well as the Canadian Centennial Medal. He held an honorary doctorate and became a member of the Order of Canada in 1987.

Courtesy the National Gallery of Canada

BIÉLER, André-Charles

1896-1989

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, son of Charles and Blanche Biéler. His father was Director of Collège Gaillard and his mother the daughter of J.H. Merle d’Aubigné, historian of the Reformation. André received his earliest drawing lessons from his uncle Ernest Biéler, a Swiss artist. The Biéler family lived in Paris for 12 years before coming to Canada in 1908. They settled in Montreal, Quebec, where his father accepted a teaching post at Presbyterian College. He attended the Westmount Academy and then the Institut Technique de Montreal where he prepared for studies in architec­ture. In 1915 when World War I was declared he enlisted in the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry and served in France where he was wounded and gassed. His health had been greatly affected by his war wounds and he decided to become an artist. On his release from the army he studied art at Lycée Carnot in Paris. Returning home he qualified for a grant from the Soldiers’ Settlement Board to study for a year at the Art Students’ League at Woodstock, N.Y. and spent the winter months in southern United States (1920-21). He returned to Europe for further study in Paris at the Ecole du Louvre and at the Atelier Ranson with Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis. He went back to Switzerland to assist his uncle in the making of several frescoes in the Town Hall of LeLocle in the Swiss Jura Mountains (1922, 1923-25). When he returned to Canada he settled on the Island of Orleans where the landscape was much to his liking with its undulating horizontal lines and carved-out shapes of the mainland hills on either side. There he sketched genre scenes and church activities which revealed his empathy for the people of rural Quebec and their way of life. His biographer, Francis K. Smith, concluded that the years he spent in rural Quebec provided him with the most important storehouse of material for his paintings for years after­wards. Between 1930 and 1936, he had a studio in Montreal in the house of the sculptor Laliberté and then at Beaver Hall. In partnership with John Lyman and other artists he taught at the Atelier. With young interior deco­rator and designer, Jeannette Meunier, he extended his activities into the field of theatre and costume design, furniture, interiors, fabrics, posters and, in collaboration with spinners and weavers in the lower St. Lawrence region, he promoted the use of homespun textiles in interior decoration. Finally, in 1931 he married his business partner Jeannette Meunier. In 1935 they gave up their busy life and retreated to the Laurentians and made their home in Ste. Adèle. In 1936 he was appointed Resident Artist at Queen’s University where he gave credit courses in Art History and Art Appreciation and conducted studio courses for the community. During his busy career as an outstanding teacher, he also managed to produce a variety of works including paintings, prints, sculpture, murals in fresco and mosaic. He was certainly influenced by the French Impressionists, especially in his use of colour. Viewing his work in 1982 Nancy Baele noted, . . . rather than arbitrarily placing figures in his own work, Biéler makes them integral to the landscape. They come unbidden out of the rocks or trees or from a farm­yard . . . . They do not dominate but are part of a natural order. They belong because of the equilibrium Biéler creates – a harmony between the physi­cal work man does and his environment. Filled with color – pinks, greens, golds – and buoyant in subject matter, his oil paintings point to the ful­fillment and pleasure to be found both in work and play. Biéler is a master at conveying the exuberance of childhood with colors that have the fresh­ness of vegetation after rain. His major works include: large mural, 19 by 16 feet, for the Shipshaw plant of the Aluminum Company of Canada, which recorded the development of hydro electric power and aluminum industry in the Quebec region of Lac Saint Jean and the Saguenay River (1945-48); large painting for Canadian Pulp and Paper Assoc. (1948); mural for Veterans’ Affairs Bldg., Ott. (1955); 75 colour woodcuts for Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Mtl. (1957); mosaic mural for Chalmers United Church, Kings., On. (1957); mosaic mural for the Frontenac Wall & Tile Co., Kings., On. (1958); mural for Proctor & Gamble Co., Dorval (1958); plaster & aluminum relief mural for Aluminum Laboratories Ltd., Kings., On. (1968). He taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts for four summers (1940, 1947, 1949, 1952). In 1941 he conceived and organized the first Conference of Canadian Artists (The Kingston Conference) and also formed the Federation of Canadian Artists and was its first President. The following year he estab­lished a Summer School of Painting at Queen’s University. He took a year’s sabbatical leave studying and painting in Europe (1953-54). In 1957 he established the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and was Director of the Centre from 1957 to 1963. The summer of 1959 he returned to Europe for travel and to paint. During 1960-62 he had a home and studio built at Glenburnie just outside of Kingston and the same year was responsible for overseeing the construction of the extension to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (1962). In 1963 the first retrospective exhibition of his work was held at AEAC of 115 works, the same year he retired from the University. He was now freer to spend more time with his own art and visited Mexico three times (1964, 1966, 1972). A second retrospective exhibition of his work was held in 1970 at AEAC entitled André Biéler, 50 years: a retrospective exhibition 1920-1970 which travelled to ten galleries in Canada. During his career he held well over 25 solo shows in: Geneva, Montreal, Kingston, Quebec City, Edmonton, Calgary, Banff, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, and in Mexico at Galebia San Miguel Allende and elsewhere. He participated in many impor­tant group shows. He designed and built a pneumatic type press to produce intaglio/relief prints and established The Twelve Pines Press (1967-68). He received the following rewards for his work: J.W.L. Forster award by the O.S.A. (1957); Hon. LL.D, Queen’s U. (1969); Montreal Medal, Queen’s U. (1976); O.C. (1988) for the conference of Canadian Artists he organized in 1941 which in turn sparked the ideas and events that led to the establishment of the Canada Council. Biéler died in Kingston in 1989 at the age of 93. He was survived by his wife Jeannette and four children; his son Ted, is a well-known Canadian sculptor. André Biéler is represented in the following collections: NGC, Ott.; AGO, Tor.; HH, U. of T. Tor.; AEAC, Kings. On.; Art Coll. Soc., Kings.; MMFA, Mtl.; SGWU, Mtl.; McMich. Can. Coll., Kleinb., On.; Mus. Que., Q. City; Edn. AG, Edn.; AGW, Wpg.; AGW, Windsor, On. and elsewhere. Member: CSGA (1931-c. 1933) (1956); CGP (c. 1935); OSA (1937); CSPWC (1939); FCA (fdr.mbr. 1941) (Prs. 1942-44); ARCA (1942), RCA (1949).

Colin S. MacDonald

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Studied at

Lycée Carnot, Paris
Art Student’s League, New York
École du Louvre, Paris

Awards

J.W.L Foster award at OSA exhibition, 1952

Professional Activities

Teaching, Queens University, 1936-64
Teaching, Banff School ofFine Arts, 1940, 47, 49, 52

Group Exhibitions

Montréal Art Association, 1924
The Ritz, Montéal, 1926
École des Beaux-Arts, Québec, 1941
Eton’s, College Street, 1946
Garfield Gallery, Toronto, 1950
Museum of Fine Arts, Montréal, 1952
Roberston Art Gallery, Ottawa, 1954
Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1960, 1964
Many international exhibitions

Collections

The Art Gallery Of Ontario
Museum of the Province of Québec
Montréal Museum of Fine Arts
Hart House, Toronto
Queen’s University, Kingston
Art Collection Society of Kingston
Windsor Art Association
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Edmonton Art Gallery
The National Gallery of Canada
+ Many private collections