Léon Bellefleur, self-portrait, 1950
For 25 years Léon Bellefleur was an elementary school teacher, after receiving a teaching diploma in 1929, developing his artwork during the summers. He was studying during the evenings at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal until 1938 and in 1940 met Alfred Pellan. He discovered the work of Paul Klee.
In 1946 he mounted an exhibition of paintings inspired by the drawings of his children at the Maison des Compagnons. In 1947 he wrote "Plea for the Child" an article defending the value of children's creativity and imagination.
In 1948 he signed the free art "Prisme d'yeux" manifesto with artists who were open to traditional expression and inspiration and who were responding to the more radical ideological approach of the Automatistes. Along with Albert Dumouchel, Jacques de Tonnancour, Louis Archambault and others, Bellefleur joined the Prisme d'Yeux led by Alfred Pellan, signing their manifesto in 1948 and exhibiting with the group. These artists were responding to the approach of the Quebec Automatistes and called for freedom of expression. Through this association, Bellefleur became interested in the Surrealist preoccupation with the subconscious as a source of inspiration. Towards the end of the decade, he became interested in the work of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky and the Spanish artist Juan Miro.
Léon Bellefleur was part of the second international Cobra exhibition at Liège, Belgium, in 1951 and in 1953 he joined the automatiste movement.
In 1954 he was able to retire and pursue his art career full-time.
He studied engraving in France at Friedlander's and Desjaubert's studios in 1954. Later, after his return to France in 1958, he drew close to André Breton's surrealist group. He set up a studio in Paris. Bellefleur spent most of the next 10 years working and travelling in Europe before returning to Quebec permanently in 1966.
He continued to create lyrical and surrealist influenced painting, drawings, and prints through the 1980s.
SUBJECT / THEMES
Upon his return to Québec in 1957, Bellefleur developed his "facetted" painting style in which his nonfigurative compositions were built up with a spatula.He produced prints and etchings. He also experimented with painting techniques, working with a spatula, which provided cleaner definitions to outlines than a brush and created various dimensional effects.
His career was boosted by a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 1968, in London (Ontario) and Montréal. Numerous exhibitions of his work have been held in Brazil, Canada, England and Denmark.
He was, in 1977, the first winner of the Prix Borduas; he also received the annual prize of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste in 1985 and an honorary Ph.D. from Concordia University in 1987. Léon Bellefleur was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy in 1989.