The Boy with the Cormorant, Gaspé
In 1926, after several years of artistic training under his uncle Ernest Biéler in Switzerland and at the Académie Ranson in Paris, Biéler marked his return to Canada with a trip to the Gaspé. Having depicted inhabitants of the Swiss countryside, he was inspired by regionalist sentiment to turn his attention to Quebec's rural communities. The climate was "décidément trop fort," however, for a man with asthma, who was also still recovering from battle at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. The few works produced during this short trip were featured in a solo exhibition at the Ritz-Carleton Hotel, Montreal, and described by a critic as "distinguished and delicate, natural and sincere." When Biéler returned to the Gaspé again in 1930, his artistic approach was decidedly different. This time, he was coming off a two-year stay in Sainte-Famille, Île d'Orléans, and was also more deeply involved with the modern artistic scene of Montreal, and in particular the Beaver Hall Group. Biéler shared with the Beaver Hall artists a drive to integrate the human figure with landscape. In The Boy with the Cormorant, Gaspé, tonal repetition unifies foreground and background; the shape of the boy's hat echoes the curves and peaks of the vernacular architecture; the pattern of the bird's feathers extends into the shoreline. Comparison of this painting with his previous Gaspesie and early Sainte-Famille work reveals a new boldness of conception, coloration and paint applicationthe sitter's face sculpted by planes of colour. As Agnes curator emeritus Frances K. Smith wrote about The Boy with Cormorant, Gaspé, "the infuence of Ernest Biéler is much less apparent ... André was finding his own idiom."