This Week in History


Marc-Aurèle Fortin: Capturing Nature’s Beauty

For the week of Monday March 12, 2012

On March 14, 1888, Marc-Aurèle Fortin, a prolific painter, was born in Sainte-Rose, Quebec, a small village north of Montréal. Renowned for his distinctive landscapes, Fortin shared his love of nature and his attachment to Quebec heritage in his paintings.

Marc-Aurèle Fortin
© Courtesy of Fondation Marc-Aurèle Fortin

Marc-Aurèle Fortin first trained as an artist in Montréal. He studied from 1903 to 1904 at the Monument National under Edmond Dyonnet, and from 1906 to 1908 at the École du Plateau with Ludger Larose. He also attended several workshops at the Chicago Art Institute and resided in Boston and New York for five years. In the mid-1920s, Fortin became more serious about his painting, starting to create landscapes with majestic trees and cloudy skies for which he is so well-known, and making his work available to the public through exhibitions.

A versatile artist, Fortin worked with many methods and styles throughout his career. After visiting France in 1935, he began to experiment with “la manière noire” (black manner), where he covered the canvas with black before painting, and “la manière grise” (grey manner), which drew attention to the skies in his paintings. In the 1950s, his work changed again with his use of casein, a milk-derived protein that allowed him to create new effects.

A painting by Marc-Aurèle Fortin
© Canada Post Corporation 1981. Reproduced with Permission

Fortin produced between 7,000 and 8,000 works of art during his lifetime. The subjects of Fortin’s paintings illustrate the influence of his surroundings. As he travelled around Quebec in the 1930s and 1940s, many of his paintings depicted quiet towns and villages. He also painted Montréal’s port and its working class. Nature, usually expressed in the form of rural landscapes with small houses, was a dominant theme, and human figures, rarely present, appeared unusually small in his work.

Fortin was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts from 1942 to 1955, and he participated in numerous national and international exhibitions, including ones at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec in 1944, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1954, and at the National Gallery of Canada in 1963. His work can still be seen today in many Canadian galleries. After retiring from painting in the mid-1950s for health reasons, he lived his last days in a sanatorium in Abitibi, where he died on March 2, 1970. For his contribution to Canadian art, Marc-Aurèle Fortin was designated a National Historic Person in 2011.

For more information about Marc-Aurèle Fortin please see Fondation Marc-Aurèle Fortin (in French only).

To learn more about Canadian artists, please read the stories A Great Canadian Artist for Inspiration, A.J. Casson: the Youngest of the Group of Seven, Birthday of Artist Robert Harris, and Lawren Harris and his Original Landscapes from our This Week in History archives.

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