Youth / Training / Teaching; 1905-1940

Youth / Training / Teaching: 1905 - 1940


     Paul-Émile Borduas was born on November 1st 1905 in Saint-Hilaire. Son of Magloire Borduas and Eva Perreault, he was the fourth child of a family of seven (four girls and three boys). Young Paul-Émile went to school in Saint-Hilaire, and took private French lessons. The family went the local church where the Paul-Émile soon discovered the art Ozias Leduc who was to become his teacher. Leduc had done the decoration of the church between 1896 and 1899 (1).

     Borduas began his studies in art and art history under the Leduc’s supervision in 1922. Borduas also began as Leduc’s apprentice in June of the same year, working on the decoration of the private Chapel of the bishop of Sherbrooke. He took advantage of his stay in this city to take evening lessons in drawing at the École des arts et métiers, where he won a first prize. In autumn 1923, he joined the École des beaux-arts de Montréal where he studied under the guidance of Charles Maillard, Robert Mahias, and Edwin Holgate, among others.

     Throughout his studies, Borduas continued to assist Leduc in the decoration of churches, while participating in various local activities (2). He began his career as professor of drawing at the École du Plateau in Montreal in 1927. The same year he participated in his first exhibition, presenting a wood engraving, Sentinelle Indienne, at the Exhibition of Works by Canadian Artists, at Eaton’s Department Store. The following summer, a study trip brought him to New York and Boston. In 1928, he resigned from his position as a part-time instructor in October left for France, where, in January, 1929, he entered the Ateliers d'art sacré directed by Maurice Denis and Georges Desvallières. The autumn of that same year, he collaborated in the decoration of the churches in Rambucourt and Xivray (3). Returning to Quebec in June of 1930, he resumed his work with Ozias Leduc. In August 1932, Borduas painted six historical maps for the chalet on Mount Royal in Montreal before returning in September to teaching drawing at the Externat classique Saint-Sulpice, where he stayed until 1943.

     Discouraged by the artistic situation of Quebec, struck by the Great Depression at the beginning of the thirties, Borduas dreamed of exile in Brazil and South America, as well the New Hebrides and the Tuamotu Islands; sadly for him, none of these fantasies came to fruition. He settled in Montreal in 1932 on Chateaubriand Street, and was hired the following year to teach drawing in five district schools at the rate of fourteen hours a week. In June 1935, he married Gabrielle Goyette of Granby. The couple moved to Napoleon Street where their three children were born: Janine, Renée and Paul.

     Paul-Émile Borduas entered the École du Meuble as a professor in 1937, at the same time as Maurice Gagnon. The latter signed the first article dedicated to the painter, entitled « Paul-Émile Borduas . . . peintre montréalais (4) ». Published in La Revue moderne, this began a bounty of critical writing on the painter, which continues to grow.

     This period, began a series of hectic years for Borduas, during which the painter combined his activities as professor with his pictorial practice and his involvement in the milieu; as he wrote, published, participated in forums and gave conferences (5). On February 15th 1939 Borduas, John Lyman and Robert Élie founded the Contemporary Arts Society (C.A.S.), where he held the office of vice-president.

    1. On Ozias Leduc, see, among others, Laurier Lacroix, Ozias Leduc. Une œuvre d'amour et de rêve. Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, 1996.

    2. In 1925 he assisted Leduc in the decoration of the Saint-Jean- Baptiste celebrations in Saint-Hilaire; in 1928, he participated in the construction of the decoration sets for the theatre play Madeleine, by Dr Ernest Choquette.

    3. Rambucourt and Xivray are two small villages of the Lorraine region, in France.

    4. Maurice Gagnon, Paul-Émile Borduas . . . peintre Montréalais, La Revue Moderne, vol. 18, no 11, September 1937, p. 10-11.

    5. In 1942, Borduas published Fusain in Amérique française on a work by Jacques de Tonnancour. In November of the same year, he presented Des milles manières de goûter une œuvre d'art for the members of the Société d'études et de conférences at the Windsor Hotel; the text is published the following year in Amérique française.