Jean Albert McEwen

Canadian [1923-1999]

Association of Non-Figurative Artists of Montreal, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts

Jean McEwen was born in Montreal to a Scottish father and French-Canadian mother. A true renaissance man, he completed a Pharmacy degree at the University of Montreal, while also pursuing his interest in painting and poetry (his poetry was published and his first submission to the Spring Salon of the Montreal Museum of Arts was accepted and well-received). McEwen soon developed a friendship with Paul-Emile Borduas, who inspired his early experimentation. In 1951, McEwen held his first one-man show at Galerie Agnes Lefort, to favorable reviews. Shortly afterward, having made the decision to pursue a career as an artist, he left for Paris.

The following two years (1951-1953) were immersive ones. During this time, McEwen's associates included American artist Sam Francis, French painter Georges Mathieu and fellow Quebecer Jean-Paul Riopelle (a connection facilitated by Borduas). McEwen exhibited with Riopelle and Francis at Galerie du Dragon, painted in Brittany, and travelled to Italy, Holland, and Spain to view the works of the Masters.

Upon his return to Montreal, McEwen began to define himself as an artist, progressively distinguishing his work from that of earlier influences. In 1956, he became a member of the newly founded Association des Artistes Non Figuratifs de Montréal, becoming president of the association in 1960. McEwen was maturing as an artist and now exhibiting more broadly. Solo shows at Gallery Moos (Toronto) in 1961 and 1962, provided the impetus for a New York solo show the following year at the Martha Jackson Gallery, then for several other International exhibitions. In 1966, McEwen's work was featured in a joint touring exhibition (with Harold Town) of the National Gallery of Canada, and he was also included in the National Gallery's Canadian Centennial show the following year. McEwen was able to dedicate himself entirely to painting in 1973, when he finally retired from the pharmaceutical industry. In 1977, he received the Victor Lynch-Staunton award (for distinguished artistic contribution in Canada). This enabled him to work in Paris once again, from September 1977 to June 1978.

Jean McEwen is one of Canada’s most influential abstract painters, with a career spanning over 50 years. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presented major retrospectives of McEwen's work in 1973 and 1987. Major exhibitions have also been held by the National Gallery of Canada and the Musee d'art Contemporain de Montreal. His work can be found in numerous public collections including the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

McEwen drew influence from the spontaneity of the Automatistes, from the French schools of Impressionism and Lyrical Abstraction, and from the non-figural abstraction that characterized the work of the American Expressionists of the time. McEwen's work, however, remained distinct from any of these schools. His was a more deliberate exploration of colour, light and gesture, skillfully layering opaque and translucent paint into sensuous constructions.

-"There are two ways to judge a painting...One is based on criteria and theories of art. The second is based on sensations we get from the picture. I paint the second way."

We are currently seeking works by Jean Albert McEwen to be included in future auctions.

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A Few Notable Results from our Auctions

Jean Albert McEwen

oil on canvas
87.5 x 64.5 in.

Sold for $ 42,500 (hammer price) – December 2019

Jean Albert McEwen

oil on canvas
30 x 30 in.

Sold for $37,500 (hammer price) – June 2020

Jean Albert McEwen

oil on canvas
40 x 40 in.

Sold for $ 32,500 (hammer price) – May 2021

Jean Albert McEwen

LES ICONES #17; 1964
oil on canvas
12 x 11 in.

Sold for $ 17,000 (hammer price) – May 2017

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