Musée des beaux-arts de Mont-Saint-Hilaire
Virtual Museum of Canada

First Draft

Group portrait in Fernand Leduc's studio in which we can see several of the Automatists.

Artist : Maurice Perron
Title : Group portrait in Fernand Leduc's studio, 1946,
1998 print (from left to right: Marcel Barbeau,
Madeleine Arbour, Pierre Gauvreau, Fernand Leduc,
[ ?], Claude Gauvreau
Technique : Gelatin silver print
Size : 19,5 x 34 cm
Collection : Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec
Catalog number : 1999.208
Mention : Don de la famille Perron

The first outlines of Refus global took shape in the fall of 1947. Jean-Paul Riopelle returned from a trip to Paris with a pamphlet entitled Rupture initiale (Initial Rupture), produced by Surrealist artists and co-signed by him. This manifesto, with its social and political overtones, was intended specifically to announce a break with the Communist Party, but it also resonated with the Automatist group in Québec and strengthened their resolve to publish an inflammatory document of their own. Discussions between Borduas and the other members of the group advanced well, as they developed and defined qualities and issues. Confined to bed by illness over the 1947-1948 Christmas holidays, Borduas had plenty of time to reflect on these questions. He wrote up a first draft of the manifesto. During the same winter, Maurice Perron was staying with the Riopelles in nearby Otterburn Park. These younger artists met frequently with Borduas. They read Borduas’ text and were deeply involved in developing the manifesto’s argumentation.

Correspondence between Borduas and Fernand Leduc, who was in Paris at the time, indicate that an early draft of Refus global was circulating among the young Automatists as early as January 1948. The first plan was to insert the text in an exhibition catalogue that would also contain other texts, photographs and reproductions of drawings and paintings. However, by the end of January, it had been decided that the manifesto would be published independently in the fall and that it would be launched without being part of an exhibition. Then, on February 4 of the same year, another artistic group, Prisme d’yeux (Prism of the eyes) founded by Alfred Pellan, launched a manifesto written by Jacques de Tonnancour and bearing the group’s name; this was seen by the Automatists as an attempt to steal their thunder. Consequently, there followed a flurry of activity, with several versions of Refus global being produced throughout the winter and spring before 400 copies were finally published by Mythra-Mythe Éditeur. The manifesto was launched at Librairie Tranquille, a well-known Montréal bookstore, on August 9, 1948.

During the preparation of the manifesto, Borduas had started to sever certain professional and personal ties. The first signs of this upheaval in his life appeared when Borduas broke with people he considered friends. The earliest such rift, recorded in his correspondence, concerned John Lyman and the Contemporary Arts Society. Borduas then began to break off relationships with increasing speed and frequency. In February of 1948, he cut off all contact with Maurice Gagnon and disassociated himself from the Revue des Arts Graphiques. With the launch of the manifesto, Borduas made his final break – that with the public and a broader readership. It marked a definitive separation with Québec society and those who could not follow him on the path opened by the Automatists.

Header image: The five-note theme used in BIEN-ÊTRE (Well being), page 13 of Refus global (inverted detail).


• November – December 1947: Riopelle’s return from Paris. Numerous discussions at exhibitions held during these months. Project for a group exhibition accompanied by a collective manifesto. Borduas’ text, “La Transformation continuelle” (Continual tranformation), submitted to the group but refused.

• November 22, 1947 – January 3, 1948: Debate on art between Gilles Hénault and Pierre Gélinas in the review Combat.

• December 6 and 13, 1947: Article by Claude Gauvreau in which Automatism is defined without reference to the surrational (“L’automatisme ne vient pas de chez Hadès” (Automatism does not come from Hades), Notre Temps, 6, December 6, 1947, p. 3, and December 13, 1947, p. 6).

• Christmas holidays, 1947-1948: Borduas on vacation but sick in bed. Earliest draft of the manifesto.

• January 1948: Two letters from Borduas to Fernand Leduc referring to progress in writing the manifesto. Late January: completion of version 1 and decision to publish in the fall.

• Early February 1948: Preparation of the first typed copies of the text (versions 2 and 3). Copy of the manifesto sent to John Lyman. Borduas’ relationship with Lyman and the Contemporary Arts Society broken off.

• February 17, 1948: Article by Pierre Gauvreau in which Automatism is defined with reference to the surrational (“Arbre généalogique de l’automatisme contemporain” (Family tree of contemporary Automatism), Le Quartier latin, February 17, 1948.

• Second half of February 1948: Second typing up of the manifesto by Borduas. A copy (version 4) sent to Fernand Leduc in Paris (early March).

• Spring 1948: Additional editing done on the second typed text (versions 5 and 6). Preparation for publication by the group (versions 7 and 8).

• August 9, 1948: Launch of Refus global at the Librairie Tranquille.