Rita Letendre 1928 - Canadian oil on canvas Rencontre en flammé 84 x 42 inches 213.3 x 106.7 centimeters signed and dated 1962 Literature:The National Gallery of Canada, ""Cybermuse"", a related work entitled Atara, 1963, reproduced at cybermuse.gallery.ca (accessed February 21, 2011) Provenance:Edgar and Dorothy Davidson, Montreal and then moving to Ottawa in 1972 One of the most distinguished living artists in Canada, Rita Letendre is a recipient of the Order of Quebec (2002) and became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. In 2010 she was honoured with the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts. Rencontre en flammé comes from a remarkable earlier period. It was painted soon after Letendre's solo exhibition at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal in 1961 and at a crucial time in her long and notable career, a stage during which she was starting to be known and widely exhibited, to paint full time, and to travel in Europe and in Israel (1962 - 1964). A canvas from this year was included in Italy's Spoleto Festival in 1962. She was awarded a gold medal at Italy's Piccola Europa exhibition in this period. Letendre's paintings of the 1960s speak passionately of their nascence in the revolutionary aesthetic and social contexts of the Automatists. She met and exhibited with the group in the 1950s and never lost the commitment to high-energy abstraction, even as her work turned towards geometry in subsequent years when she showed with the artists who later formed Quebec's equally influential group of abstractionists, the Plasticiens. Rencontre en flammé generates its expressive power through strong contrasts of colour, texture and especially of light and dark. Like most works by the Automatists, it trades on the gesture and precision of the palette knife to delineate and separate colours and forms. Some passages are smooth and slick while others have almost a cutting edge. The unusual vertical format of this painting might at first seem to indicate a hierarchy or evolution in the development of the one white and the two blue and white motifs that dance through its central axis, but Letendre is careful not to display any evolution in these shapes or to confine these forms within any sort of pattern or grid. They are free. They seem to rip themselves joyously from the midnight-black ground and to fly exuberantly past the flame-like red, yellow and orange tendrils with which they are structurally akin. While the painting as a whole is crepuscular, the strong contrast between the fiery surrounding forms and the cool blue and white central elements speaks of some sort of emergence. Letendre's Rencontre en flammé is nothing short of primordial in its power. While such creative potency may be universal, Letendre, who is of First Nations (Abenaki) and Québecois descent, has claimed that her preference for strong tonal contrast stems from her Abenaki heritage. We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto, for contributing the above essay.