Marcelle Ferron (1924 – 2001)
“To paint, for her, means to deal with life, to solve its problems, to create her own unconquered world.”
- Art critic Herta Wescher, 1962From her earliest years, a resistance to conformity and a determination to bridge
the domains of art and life characterized Marcelle Ferron’s life. At age three, repeated hospitalizations due to osseous tuberculosis forced her to internalize an awareness of death and to believe in the urgency of living well, even as the illness left her with a “bad leg” and lifelong struggles with her health.
At age seven, her mother died and her father moved Ferron and her siblings to rural Quebec, where they benefited from outdoor activities and his well-stocked library.Encouraged in her passion for painting, Ferron enrolled in Montreal’s École des Beaux-Arts; within a year, she withdrew over disagreements with the institution’s approach to modern art.
Seeking new styles and a mode of artistic engagement with the world, Ferron became associated with the Quebecois group known as the Automatistes, artists who worked to suppress conscious control and let the unconscious mind take over creation.Through the Automatistes, Ferron joined several avant-garde artists in 1948 to sign the Refus Global, an anarchistic manifesto that called on the Quebec clergy and mainstream society to reject traditional social values. The manifesto shocked the public and left all of its signatories blacklisted, thanks to statements like: “To the devil with holy water sprinklers and the ‘tuque.’” Yet, although the CBC calls the Refus Global “one of the most important and controversial artistic and social documents in modern Quebec society,” it sparked enormous ideological change, eventually leading to the province’s Quiet Revolution.Ferron’s existentialism and anti-establishment values informed her private life, too. Refusing to submit to social expectations that would have her embrace domestic life, Ferron left her husband in 1953, moving with her three daughters to Paris, where she stayed for thirteen years. During her time in Europe, Ferron became part of the Parisian café scene, where she hobnobbed with well-known artists.
Support for her paintings and regular exhibitions in reputable galleries meant that, by the time she returned to Quebec in 1966, she enjoyed international renown.
Never satisfied with mere acknowledgement of her talent, Ferron was determined to reach a wider audience with her art. Her friendship with the painter Paul-Émil Borduas led her to adopt the belief that “the artist’s role was social,” and she persistently searched for ways to transcend the political limitations of a parlor artist.
She found a new means to articulate her ideas after finding inspiration in the windows of European cathedrals. She studied stained glass with the Michel Blum in Paris before returning to Montreal to invent “a method that allowed her to build walls of light by inserting sheets of antique glass between two walls of glass, the surfaces between joined by invisible joints that she, herself, perfected.”Ferron’s glass technique led to tremendous success, and established her as one of the most preeminent public artists in Quebec.
Her stained glass dominates several spaces in Montreal, including the Champs-de-Mars and Vendome metro stations.
Bios by Marlene Lowden- thanks Marlene!