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Began painting before the age of 10. Went to Paris in 1958 on a Canada Council Fellowship to study engraving and lithography. Was chosen in 1960 to represent Canada at the Guggenheim International Contest. Lived and worked in both Quebec and Paris between 1954 and 1965. Continued to paint into his 90’s.
“Mystery works and is everywhere in life, around us and even in us, especially in art, I feel. A work without mystery is not a work of art; it is just a decorative object, made with a great deal of craftsmanship, but without soul or inner life, without mystery, in fact, and without wonder!”
– Léon Bellefleur
For 25 years Léon Bellefleur was an elementary school teacher, developing his artwork during the summers and studying during the evenings at the école des Beaux-Arts in Montreal for several years. In 1954 he was able to retire and pursue his art career full-time.
Along with Albert Dumouchel, Jacques de Tonnancour, Louis Archambault and others, Bellefleur joined the Prisme d’Yeux led by Alfred Pellan, signing their manifesto in 1948 and exhibiting with the group. These artists were responding to the approach of the Quebec Automatistes, and called for freedom of expression. Through this association, Bellefleur became interested in the Surrealist preoccupation with the subconscious as a source of inspiration. Towards the end of the decade, he became interested in the work of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky and the Spanish artist, Juan Miro.
Fish in the City (1946) is a patchwork of colours and textures, representing a world of child’s play where a fish can be bigger than a clown and a star lays on the ground. In 1947 he wrote, Plea for the Child, an article defending the value of children’s creativity and imagination.
After retiring, Bellefleur travelled to Europe and set up a studio in Paris, producing prints and etchings. He also experimented with painting techniques, working with a spatula, which provided cleaner definitions to outlines than a brush and created various dimensional effects. Bellefleur spent most of the next 10 years working and travelling in Europe, before returning to Quebec permanently in 1966. His career was boosted by a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 1968. He continued to create lyrical and surrealist influenced painting, drawings, and prints through the 1980s.
He also led the Prisme d’Yeux (1948), artists who were open to traditional expression and inspiration, and who were responding to the more radical ideological approach of the Automatistes.
Courtesy the National Gallery of Canada
BELLEFLEUR, Léon (Jean-Charles Rodrigue Léon Bellefleur)
Born in Montreal, Quebec. By the age of ten he was painting landscapes on cardboard cut from cartons obtained from the corner grocery store. By the age of twelve he had decided to become a painter, but his family and friends advised him that if he became a full-time artist he would be impoverished for most of his life. Bellefleur therefore continued his general education and considered teaching to earn a living, so that he would be able to work at his art for over two months of the year. After completing his secondary education he received his teaching certificate from the Jacque Cartier Normal School, Montreal. He then taught in schools of the French Catholic School Commission system for the next twenty-five years (1929-54). Evenings he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1929-36). In 1942 he met Alfred Pellan and began to frequent his studio where he met Albert Dumouchel, Jacques de Tonnancour, Louis Archambault, Jean Benoit, Mimi Parent, Jeanne Rhéaume, Goodridge Roberts and others. In 1948 he signed the manifesto of this group of artists drafted by de Tonnancour under the name of Prisme d’Yeux. Meeting Pellan was an important part of his life. He was also interested in Paul-Emile Borduas’ group the Automatistes and both of these groups were influenced by the Surrealist movement which included Paul Klee, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dali. He was especially interested in the art of Paul Klee and children’s art. In 1947 wrote an article entitled Plaidoyer pour l’Enfant for the magazine Ateliers d’Arts Graphiques. In 1954 he retired from teaching and travelled and lived in France for ten years. There he learned engraving skills under John Friedlander in Paris for etching (1954-55) and was awarded a Canada Council Fellowship to study lithography at the Ateliers Desjaubert (1958-59). During this same period he spent some time in Provence. He returned to Canada with his wife in 1966. He had exhibited his work over the years with many of the groups to which he belonged: CAS (1943-48); SCGA (1955-58); CGP (1955); AANFM (Non-Figurative Artists Association of Montreal) of which he was a founding member (1956-). The Toronto art critic Paul Duval in his book Four Decades, (history of the Canadian Group of Painters) noted that while Bellefleur bridged the differences between Pellan and Borduas, he was . . . strong enough to issue from both as very much his own master. He must now be ranked among the foremost Canadian painters of his generation. Ottawa critic, Carl Weiselberger in 1967 described his oil paintings as follows, . . .to enjoy this exhibition, one must study the details, the textural subtleties, the careful, highly artistic method with which Bellefleur has applied his pigments, plastic and yet never heavy, luminous and of that radiant ‘joie de vivre’, which is so characteristic of the French School from Watteau, Renoir to Matisse. Bellefleur’s paintings, for all their linear and coloristic exuberance, are impeccably organized, now in strict horizontal and vertical lines, now whirling in round, rhythmic patterns across the canvas. His solo shows include: MMFA, Mtl. (1950) (1954); Gal. Agnès Lefort, Mtl. (1951) (1955); Galerie L’Actuelle, Mtl. (1955); Gal. Denyse Delrue (1957) (1958) (1960); Gal. Dresdnère, Mtl. (1961) (1962); Gal. Here & Now, Tor. (1961); Gal. du Siècle, Mtl. (1964) (1966); Gal. Connaître, Paris (1965); Roberts Gal., Tor. (1966) (1968) (1971); Gal. l’Atelier, Que. City (1966); Blue Barn Gal., Bell’s Corners, Nepean, Ont. (1967); Lond. Art Mus., Ont. (1968); NGC, Ott. (1968); Mus. d’Art Contemporain, Mtl. (1969); Gal. Damkjar, Ham., Ont. (1972) (1975); Upper Street Gal. Lond. (1973); Downstairs Gal., Edn., Alta. (1974); Gal. les Deux B., Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu (1975) (1977); Gal. Intl., Ribe, Denmark (1975); Gal. Walter Klinkhoff, Mtl. (1977) and others. His awards include: Jessie Dow Prize, MMFA Spring Show (1951); Hon. Men. Drawing, 2nd Biennial Ex. Can. Art (1957); 2nd Prize, Commonwealth Exhibition, Van. (1957); Paul Emile Borduas Prize (1977). Represented in the following collections: NGC, Ott.; CCAB, Ott.; AGO, Tor.; HAG, Ham., Ont.; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Mtl.; Musée d’Art Contemp., Mtl.; Musée du Québec, Q. City; Tel-Aviv Museum, Israël, elsewhere, and many private collections.
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
1929-36, Evening classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Montreal
1951, first prize for modern painting at the Spring Exhibition of the Fine Arts Museum of Montreal
1951, Jessie Dow Award for oils
1977, First recipient of the Borduas Award
1985, Saint Jean Baptiste Society Prize
1987, Honourary Doctorate from Concordia University
Since his father objected to his desire to persue art, he graduated from Jacque Cartiers Teachers College in 1929 and taught in Montreal as a school teacher until his retirement in 1954. Was inspired in turns by surrealisim, the subconcious, and children’s art, as well as Paul Klee and Joan Miro. In 1947, published a collection of children’s art entitled “Plea of the Child”
Canadian Group of Painters
Canadian Society of Graphic Art
The Non-Figurative Artists’ Association of Montreal
Painting movements “Prisme d’Yeux” and “Les Automatistes”
35 solo exhibitions nationally and internationaly by 1985 including:
1954, Montreal Museum of Fine Art
1968, National Gallery of Canada (retrospective)
1986, Art Gallery of Ontario
National Gallery of Canada
Art Gallery of Ontario
Montreal Museum of Fine Art
Many public and private collections nationally and internationally