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


Photo of the Second Automatist exhibit in which we see artists sitting in front of a Borduas painting.

Artist : Maurice Perron
Title : Second Automatist exhibit at 75,
Sherbrooke Street West, at the Gauvreau's
, 1947, 1998 print
(from left to right: Claude Gauvreau, Mme Gauvreau,
Pierre Gauvreau, Marcel Barbeau, Madeleine Arbour,
Paul-Émile Borduas, Madeleine Lalonde, Bruno Cormier,
Jean-Paul Mousseau)
Technique : Gelatin silver print
Size : 26 x 33,5 cm
Collection : Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec
Catalog number : 1999.213
Mention : Don de la famille Perron

Refus global was produced by members of a group known as the Automatists. They had received the name as a result of an exhibition held in Pierre Gauvreau’s home on Sherbrooke Street, Montréal, from February 15 to March 1, 1947. On February 28, the art critic Tancrède Marsil published an article entitled “ Les Automatistes. L’École Borduas” (The Automatists. The Borduas School) in Le Quartier latin, a student journal. The name was inspired by a painting by Borduas entitled Automatisme 1947. The term caught on and was soon attached to the group, despite the fact that the members themselves had no intention or desire to be known as such, finding the expression ambiguous and non-representative. Apart from Paul-Émile Borduas, Refus global was signed by 15 other young artists.

Foreseeing that the manifesto would provoke strong reactions, Borduas refused to let certain group members sign the document because he considered them too young to take on the responsibilities that were sure to follow such an action.

First meeting with Borduas
Fernand Leduc
Video clip
Duration: 2 minutes 25 seconds
Download the video file (10 MB)
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Madeleine Arbour
«As an artist and an interior design consultant, she took part in several television programs, especially on Radio-Canada, where she was also a host on children’s programs. She produced layouts, murals and tapestries (including the one at the Québec Pavilion at the Osaka [World’s Fair]. ». (André-G. Bourassa, 1988)

Marcel Barbeau
«The difficult, the complicated, with a long way to go before he attained the serenity of a more stable, but perhaps less precious, equilibrium. Intense emotionality in mid-evolution… We believed in the advent of transmutation. Since then, Marcel has never stopped surprising us. ». (Paul-Émile Borduas, c.1947-1948)

«He was certainly the fieriest of the Automatists and the one who pushed frenetic, plastic writing the furthest, along with Riopelle – their evolution was absolutely parallel.».

Bruno Cormier
«Dadaism based on baroque and exacerbated romanticism. … Composed inspired poetic theatre. …Discovered avant-garde movements at the same time as Pierre [Gauvreau]. Reticent at first, he soon became an ardent apostle of artistic revolution. …With Fernand Leduc, he studied the Surrealist movement in depth – and met Freud. When his medical studies were complete, he directed his attention to psychoanalysis. ». (Claude Gauvreau, 1950)

Marcelle Ferron
«She started her career by attending the fine arts school in Québec City. … Her friends criticized her for imitating Borduas: she had never seen a painting by Borduas and knew nothing of Automatism. A little later, her ever-alert intuition told her that this unknown Borduas was probably someone who could help her. She went to meet him in his office at the École du meuble. …[He] encouraged her and gave her feedback on her work. ». (Claude Gauvreau, 1950)

Claude Gauvreau
«The hero of an unforgettable evening when it was possible to envision what surrational theatre could be. The calmness and tremendous assurance of a revolutionary born to be a poet and orator. Of all of us, the one engaged in the most easily justifiable, least undisciplined activity.». (Paul-Émile Borduas, c.1947-1948)

Pierre Gauvreau
«Pierre, the born painter. The most serene of revolutionary painting ever. Dawn or setting sun. In a corner of refreshing shade, I see the tranquil dance of familiar ghosts against a fiery sky. It is respite in a chanced-upon oasis. The unforeseen order of a young world in the bitter dotage of the one that surrounds us. ». (Paul-Émile Borduas, c.1947-1948)

Muriel Guilbault
«…determined to become a professional actress (at the age of 14). …Muriel was outstanding in No Exit (Sartre himself, who saw her perform and whom she met, wanted to take her back to France with him). … It was I who introduced her to Surrealism. She at once recognized familiar echoes in her own being – without knowing anything about the historic movement, she had always lived Surrealism in her private life. At the same time, an extraordinary novel stirred in me. Muriel was the love of my life.  ». (Claude Gauvreau, 1950)

Fernand Leduc
«After Borduas, he was the first to experiment with Automatism. … A patient, painstaking worker, he was extremely rigorous towards himself. He plunged headlong into Surrealism. He totally rejected Christianity. He lived on Amherst Street – he was the one who had the idea for this exhibition. For a long time, his studio was a gathering place for the younger artists in the group.». (Claude Gauvreau, 1950)

Jean-Paul Mousseau
« The lumberman of the group, with a porcupine brush-cut. The most awkward of men when he wasn’t interested, but the most patient, meticulous one for the things he loved. A fleck of dust on his marvellous watercolours disrupts their beauty, they as so lovingly done. Spontaneous, dazzling syntheses, obtained through the tightest of automatic “analyses.” An impeccable sense of harmony in the absence of any critical sense. The lucky one, the envied one.». (Paul-Émile Borduas, c.1947-1948)

Maurice Perron
«Maurice Perron studied cabinet-making at the École du meuble, where he was a student of Borduas, at the same time as Marcel Barbeau, Roger Fauteux and Jean-Paul Riopelle. He entered the Automatist circle in the winter of 1947-1948 and became their “official” photographer. … Almost all the photographs published in Refus global were taken by him, including the picture of “Danse dans la neige” (Dance in the snow), choreographed by Françoise Sullivan. Mythra-Mythe, the publishing house that put out Refus global, Vierge incendié and Projections libérantes, was registered in his name. His photographs are important not only for their documentary value, but also for the quality of his gaze, which could capture a gesture, a certain light and even chance effects.». (André-G. Bourassa, 1988)

Louise Renaud
«Louise Renaud studied at the École des beaux-arts in Montréal before leaving for New York in 1944, where she took courses in stage lighting… . She also worked as an au pair in the family of Pierre Matisse, who managed a New York art gallery that exhibited several painters from Europe. … It was through her that the Automatists discovered the most recent publications produced by the Surrealists in New York.». (André-G. Bourassa, 1988)

Thérèse Renaud [Leduc]
«Thérèse Renaud joined the Automatists’ meetings, along with her sisters, Louise and Jeanne. She published a first poem in Le Quartier latin (November 13, 1945, with an illustration by Mousseau). Then a collection of poems, Les Sables du rêve (Sands of dream), in 1946. She left for Paris to be closer to avant-garde artistic circles. There she married Fernand Leduc and helped organize the “Automatist” exhibition at the Galerie du Luxembourg in June and July of 1947.». (Roger Chamberland, 1982)

Françoise Riopelle
«Françoise Riopelle (née Lespérance) studied dance between 1942 and 1946, during which time she joined the Automatist group. From 1947 to 1958, she lived in Paris with Jean-Paul Riopelle and there her work incorporated the most avant-garde techniques in modern dance. … Beginning in 1959, she performed choreographies set to electro-acoustic music, particularly that of Pierre Mercure, and made use of all kinds of novel resources, integrating objects, multiple screens and sculptures produced simultaneously on stage by Armand Vaillancourt, etc. She was perhaps the first of our post-modern choreographers. ». (André-G. Bourassa, 1988)

Jean-Paul Riopelle
«Fire and water brought together in an elusive vortex. Riopelle, young and nebulous, whose orbit encompasses Paris, New York and Montréal. Long after he leaves some place, a remnant of displacement can still be felt. His latest work conjures up dreams of a new planet with miraculously evolved forms.». (Paul-Émile Borduas, c.1947-1948)

Françoise Sullivan
«A brilliant ballet dancer and gifted student at the École des beaux-arts, she joined the revolt against Maillard. She took part in ‘The Sagittaires’ exhibition. …She abandoned painting to devote herself to dance. … Towards the end of the war, she went to study in New York… She discovered the modern disciplines of dance – and evolved rapidly… For her, the Refus global manifesto represented a crucial moment. ». (Claude Gauvreau, 1950)

Header image: Page of signatories of de Refus global (inverted detail).


Screen capture from the interview of Fernand Leduc

First Meeting with Paul-Émile Borduas
Fernand Leduc

I met Paul-Émile Borduas indirectly through Pierre Gauvreau whom I had met alongside Françoise Sullivan at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal (fine arts school). Pierre Gauvreau had the privilege of meeting Borduas because one of his works had been noticed by him at a student exhibition at the Gésu. Borduas thought that Pierre Gauvreau was very talented and asked to meet him. I therefore knew, at the École des beaux-arts, that he had met Borduas. I was somewhat familiar with the works painted by Borduas after his return from France – a singular style that seemed to us very contemporary in comparison to what we were used to see, Clarence Gagnon and others for example. So I told Pierre : “Next time you see Borduas, could you ask him if I could join you?” And Borduas answered : “Yes for sure, no problem.” We ended up being a small group around Paul-Émile Borduas. We would meet once a week, and our encounters and discussions would leave us feeling elated. As time went by, we kept on seeing each other, we would bring our little projects and discuss what had been going on during the past week or month, we would talk about a periodical, this or that, in fact about anything related to art or social life.

In a letter to Fernand Leduc dated July 22, 1947, Borduas talked about his plans to participate in an exhibition to be held at the Musée d’art moderne in Paris: « So far, this much has been decided about the exhibition organized by Father [Marie-Alain Couturier] in Paris. Pierre [Gauvreau], Mousseau and I will take part as Canadians. (The attention given by our newspapers to your exhibition on Gay-Lussac Street reinforces this decision.)
Father [Couturier] has chosen about ten of Pierre’s paintings and as many of Mousseau’s watercolours, as well as the eight most recent canvasses I had in the studio. It’s agreed that all these works will be displayed in a separate room, but will be an integral part of his exhibition. After he left, Father let me know through Barcelo that I could add a large painting of his if I chose and any other I considered appropriate. That’s my part. For the young artists – that is, you – [he said] that, if I wanted to take care of the matter, he’d accept everything I wanted to add – that he’d bow to my judgement.
That’s when I invited you, and through you Riopelle, to participate in the exhibition. I made the same offer to Barbeau and Vermette. I also considered, without saying anything about it to them, Mme Hamelin [Marcelle Ferron] and [Paul] Wilson. This would have meant the full participation of the painters still active in the group.»

In the end, Borduas did not take part in this event and the project came to nothing, since the leading role played by Father Couturier and, indirectly, religion in the organization of the exhibition became unacceptable to Fernand Leduc and Jean-Paul Riopelle, who were in Paris at the time and in contact with André Breton and the Surrealists. Nevertheless, this letter provides a clear picture of the artists and painters considered by Borduas to be members of the Automatist group at the time.