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To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Jean McEwen (1923-1999), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is paying homage to this Montreal great by presenting a selection of his works acquired mainly over the last two decades. The number and importance of these works donated by the artist’s family and various local collectors attest to the special connection between McEwen and the MMFA.

Installed in a newly renovated gallery of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, about 20 pieces—which include paintings and works on paper that date from 1951 to 1998— provide a concise summary of McEwen’s distinct artistic practice, characterized by an exploration of the pictorial surface through the application of successive layers of paint that exploit the expressiveness of colour within a confined space. By unravelling the duality between colour and structure in his own way, the artist organized his colour fields with tremendous spatial precision while exploring the full potential of colour and the space/plane dynamic.

Some of the paintings highlight the international scope of exhibitions dedicated to the artist, extending as far as Brazil, Japan, the United States and England. These major works include Long Plumb Line No. 2 (1961), which won him a solo exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in 1963. Open Mauve (1962) is another powerful painting that includes a central band that intersects with two colour fields, a composition that became the artist’s signature.

This presentation is also an occasion to showcase McEwen’s monumental masterpiece Jubilant Red (1963), on loan from the Power Corporation of Canada Collection. It also includes watercolours from the series “De ma main à la couleur” [Hand to Colour] – given to the MMFA by the artist’s wife, Indra – that illustrates the artist’s poems, as well as the recently restored Untitled (1951), a painting that demonstrates the influence of Paul-Émile Borduas on McEwen’s practice.

Drawing over 1 million visitors annually, the MMFA is one of the most visited museums in Canada and North America. Its highly original temporary exhibitions combine various artistic disciplines—fine arts, music, film, fashion and design—and are exported to the four corners of the world. Its rich encyclopedic collection, displayed in its five pavilions, includes international art, world cultures, decorative arts and design, and Quebec and Canadian art.

This exhibition was organized by the MMFA under the direction of Anne Grace, Curator of Modern Art, MMFA. It benefited from the collaboration of Indra McEwen and Constance Naubert-Riser, curator of the MMFA’s 1987 retrospective and editor of numerous other publications on the artist.

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