This non-figurative painting features areas of flat black, brown and white. The dark masses concentrated in the lower portion stand out from the textured white surface. A small black patch appears near the top.

Paul-Émile Borduas

(Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec, 1905 – Paris 1960)


L’étoile noire

[The Black Star]


Oil on canvas

162.5 x 129.5 cm

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gérard Lortie

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1960.1238

Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley 

Paul-Émile Borduas’s masterpiece The Black Star is seen as a synthesis of the artist’s visual language of the late 1950s. The heavy layer of paint applied with a spatula creates strong contrasts among the black, brown and white rectangular forms. The title of the work suggests a starry night rendered by Borduas as a negative image, where the black shape suspended in the upper area represents a heavenly body. The Black Star demonstrates the artist’s determination to work with simplified forms and structured compositions at a time when painting was shifting decisively toward non-figurative representation.

Trained in church decoration under Ozias Leduc, Paul-Émile Borduas was hired to teach at Montréal’s École du meuble in 1937. Exposure to Surrealism influenced his pursuit of a free and spontaneous way of painting. As the leader of the Automatiste movement, he and fifteen cosigners published the manifesto Refus global  (Total Refusal) in 1948. Dismissed from his teaching position over the ensuing controversy, he moved to New York in 1955 and later settled in Paris, where he continued to paint until his death in 1960.


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