Quebecois painter Jean Paul Lemieux (1904–1990) was seventy years old when this canvas was painted, in 1974. It is his only true self-portrait, although he painted himself as a child in his well-known 1962 work 1910 Remembered.


Jean Paul Lemieux, Self-portrait (Autoportrait), 1974

Jean Paul Lemieux, Self-portrait (Autoportrait), 1974
Oil on canvas, 167 x 79 cm, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Quebec City

Self-portrait documents the stages of the old painter’s life. With his back turned to the past, Lemieux looks out toward the spectator, and in his face we read all the loneliness of a man who sees time flowing inexorably away. Childhood, adolescence, and old age are seen here as they might appear in a nineteenth-century image d’Épinal (a type of colourful and cheaply made engraved card). The pictures placed against the white wall evoke earlier times in his life, his paintings appearing as part of his biography, as players in their own right.


The powerful evocation of time and the painter’s insistent “summons” to the viewer in Self-portrait are created by a carefully balanced combination of formal elements. The dark-red floor contrasts sharply with the lighter backdrop. The figures face front. Their bodies are cut in half by the walls and frames. The viewer’s own reactions are sharpened by the presence of pictures within the picture and by these beings who transcend time and space.


This Spotlight is excerpted from Jean Paul Lemieux: Life & Work by Michèle Grandbois.

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