Letendre, Rita

Rita Letendre, Nuits, 12-1/2" x 17-3/4", 1958, Oil on canvas

Rita Letendre, Nuits, 1958, Oil on canvas, 12 1/2 x 17 3/4 inches

Canadian artist Rita Letendre is widely known as one of the most critically-acclaimed living abstract artists of our time. She was born in Drummondville, Quebec in 1928 and studied at the École des beaux-arts in 1948. In 1950 she went to view an art show L’Exposition des Rebelles. This would be her introduction to the circle of Paul-Émile Borduas and Les Automatistes. Les Automatistes were a group of acclaimed Québécois artists who were highly influenced by the French Surrealists and their theory of automatism, a method of art-making in which the artist allows the unconscious mind to have great sway. Her participation in the 1954 Automatiste group show, La matière chante, was a pivotal moment in her career.

Letendre’s early work was characterized by loose patterns of geometric shapes in bold oil paint. As time went on, her work portrayed more defined forms, shifting from the Automatiste style to a more ordered sensibility. Her dramatic flame-like bursts of colour came to be her signature. In an issue of Canadian Art, artist Harold Klunder describes her work as “fire/ardour incarcerated” because of “the vehemence of her gesture and her voluptuous lobe of matiere” (Nasgaard, 180)

Letendre went on to be awarded the Order of Canada in 2005, an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Montreal and the Governor General’s Award in 2010 and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. Her first major museum retrospective exhibition outside of Québec, Rita Letendre: Fire and Light, took place at the AGO in September 2017. She has been the subject of solo shows throughout Canada and the United States and has work included in institutions all over North America, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, and The Robert McLaughlin Art Gallery, Oshawa.