OPINION LETTER

Centenary of Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)
RIOPELLE: 100 YEARS OF INSPIRATION

 

Riopelle, Durantin studio, 1952. Photo: John Craven.
Artwork in background: Sans titre, 1952, oil on canvas.
© Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / Copyright Visual Arts – CARCC (2023)

 

Jean Paul Riopelle. The name alone evokes an entire era in the history of Quebec and Canadian art, as well as the timelessness of art and the idea of artistic freedom without compromise.

Today, Riopelle would have turned 100 years old. A century after his birth, his Oeuvre along with his fearless and experimental approach to creating art continue to inspire generations of artists around the world.

Riopelle’s creative legacy continues to serve as a cultural ambassador to Canadian art at an international level; after all, his paintings and works are present on six continents, and celebrate our culture and place in the world.

Born on October 7, 1923 in Montreal, before being a world-renowned painter, sculptor and engraver, Riopelle was first and foremost a person of the people, deeply attached to the land he grew up in. Raised in the Plateau-Mont-Royal, in the heart of Montreal, little Jean Paul developed an interest in nature and indigenous cultures at a very young age; passions that would follow him throughout his life.

Riopelle’s deep and lifelong reverence for nature— fauna, flora, and vast Canadian landscapes—continue to resonate, especially during an era when our planet is being devastated by our civilization’s neglect towards the environment, evident by the ravages of climate change. When it comes to respect and love of nature, the values ​​and vision transmitted by Riopelle through his art feel more relevant than ever.

When it came to abstraction and art, Riopelle claimed not to extract from nature, but rather to go towards it: from snow geese to owls, the icebergs of the Far North and even the maple leaves that he brought from Quebec to France— where he spent nearly 40 years of his life. The fauna and flora of Quebec and Canada remained omnipresent in the artist’s work; a source of energy and creativity, acting as an anchor point which perhaps allowed him, even after spending almost half of his life living abroad, to maintain a link with Canada.

It was in Quebec that Riopelle chose to spend the last decade of his life, between Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson, in the Laurentians, and the archipelago of L’Isle-aux-Grues, nestled in the heart of the Saint Lawrence river, where he died on March 12, 2002.

Here in Canada, in the twilight of his life, he created his monumental testamentary work L’Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg. Exhibited at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ), this iconic masterpiece constitutes the highlight of the future Espace Riopelle — a free-standing pavilion entirely dedicated to displaying his works, with the inauguration planned for Spring 2026.

Created thanks to a partnership between the Government of Quebec, MNBAQ and the Riopelle Foundation, this brand-new museum pavilion will host the largest public collection of works by Riopelle in the world.

Even though his artistic reputation soared internationally, Riopelle’s influence is not limited to the world of culture. It is also political and social as he co-signed, in 1948, the historic Refus global manifesto, alongside other notable figures of Quebec culture including Paul-Émile Borduas, Madeleine Arbour and Françoise Sullivan – whose 100th birth anniversaries were also celebrated this year. This manifesto profoundly marked the recent history of Quebec society.

Riopelle, thirsty for freedom, was amongst the first to have had the courage and audacity to publicly question the dogmas of the Great Darkness. In this sense, Refus global was in some ways the spark that led, a few years later, to the Quiet Revolution and the birth of modern Quebec.

It is for all these reasons that this year, a veritable constellation of prestigious cultural and public institutions—in Quebec, across Canada, and internationally— have joined forces to mark the centenary of Jean Paul Riopelle with unprecedented celebrations for a Canadian visual artist.

From classical music to theater, including cinema, gastronomy, literature, poetry, education, urban art and indigenous art, a host of renowned partners have joined the Riopelle Foundation to make this year of festivities a resounding success, from coast to coast and far beyond. Thanks to them, and to the thousands of artists, teachers, students, visitors, spectators, festival-goers and art lovers who are taking part in these celebrations – the most important ever for a Canadian visual artist.

A century after his birth, Jean Paul Riopelle’s creative spirit endures, and he continues to inspire us.

Today, we celebrate with joy and pride 100 years of vision and inspiration.

Celebrate with us!

 

Manon Gauthier
Executive Director of the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation
General Commissioner of the Riopelle Centenary Celebrations