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Strawberries 1920

Alfred Pellan, Les fraises (Strawberries), 1920

Alfred Pellan, Les fraises (Strawberries), 1920
Oil on cardboard glued onto plywood, 33 x 43 cm
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Quebec City

Alfred Pellan created Les fraises (Strawberries) at the age of fourteen, before he received any formal training. It depicts a ceramic jug, a fruit basket, and a glass bowl of strawberries on a table, set against a sky-blue backdrop. The berries are juicy and ripe; the scene celebrates this eagerly anticipated Quebec summer bounty. A strong diagonal line dominates the composition, rising from left to right and dividing background and foreground. The rigid order in the picture radiates a sense of calm and stillness that is pleasing to the eye.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Still Life with Strawberries, c.1880, oil on canvas, private collection.

A seemingly traditional still life, Strawberries demonstrates a solid approach to drawing, composition, and colour, as well as vigorous expression. Two single strawberries catch the eye: placed in the lower-right corner, their “noses” point toward the basket and create another diagonal sweep, this time from right to left. Different viewpoints further disrupt the serenity of the composition: the basket’s opening appears to be seen from overhead, while the glass bowl is viewed from below and the jug is viewed from the front. As a result, Strawberries unsettles the viewer’s spatial perception.


In the still-life tradition, fruits refer to mortality and the ephemerality of human existence. However, Pellan goes beyond these themes in his painting. He interprets his subject through a dynamic composition, generous brushwork, and vibrant colours that harmonize with one another. The nature of the colour and the odd reflections of the strawberries on the table—which create the impression of a wet surface—contribute to the sense of movement. Despite the apparent stillness of the arrangement, Strawberries doesn’t speak of death; everything seems to scream vitality and life. Even in one of his very first paintings, Pellan was already demonstrating his artistic audacity.

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