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Remembering Rita Letendre

We are incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of revolutionary artist Rita Letendre. Read on to learn more about Letendre’s life’s work in her own words.


Rita Letendre. Victoire, 1961. Oil on canvas, 202.6 x 268 cm. Gift of Jessie and Percy Waxer, 1974, Donated by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, 1988. © 2017 Rita Letendre.

I wanted to create a new world, and if you have a world, it has to have poetry.” – Rita Letendre

Born in Drummondville, Quebec to Abenaki and Québécois parents in 1928, Rita Letendre began painting in 1950s Montreal. Renowned for her bold and visceral style, she pushed the boundaries of colour, light and space to new heights. Letendre used the paintbrush, airbrush, palette knife and her hands to express the spirit of life. Her work embodies her ongoing quest for connection and understanding.

We celebrate Letendre’s vibrant career with a retrospective titled Rita Letendre: Fire & Light, opening this week and running through September 17. The exhibition is included in General Admission. For a special sneak preview, all are welcome to our Summer Public Opening party taking place June 28 from 6–9 pm. in Walker Court.

Read on to learn more about Letendre’s life’s work in her own words.

Quebec abstract painter Paul-Émile Borduas (1905–1960) had an immense impact on Letendre as a young artist. As Letendre recounts, “What a fine teacher (Borduas) was – probably the greatest influence on my life as a painter. Talented people, he used to say, are a dime a dozen and technique – any bloody monkey can master that. But what you do with it, now that’s another story. As an artist you must learn who you are, what life means to you. And only then can you relate your findings to the rest of the universe.”

Rita Letendre. Daybreak, 1983. Acrylic on canvas, 198 x 365.8 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Dr. Michael J. Sole in honour of Rita Letendre and Kosso Eloul, 2006. © 2017 Rita Letendre.

“My painting is honest in that it is good and bad at the same time. My thoughts, my attitudes are automatist, which means that I have no set formula. My paintings are completely emotional, full of hair-trigger intensity. Through them, I challenge space and time. I paint freedom, escape from the here and now, from the mundane…The world isn’t only what we see or what we experience.”

Rita Letendre. Aforim, 1975. Acrylic on canvas, 137.2 x 198.1 cm. Anonymous Gift, 1975. © 2017 Rita Letendre.

“The clean shape started gradually in 1964 from the simplification that was already present in the murals. At that time, I had started doing a series of black and white wedges, the wedge that became more and more arrows. Then at one moment I made lots of lines near the arrow to create a feeling of vibration, that must vibrate into space, the eternal space…that vibration of a space that moves...these arrows are moving through space. I wanted, by the speed of it, to create vibration around.”

Rita Letendre. L'Image D'Islam, 1961. Oil on canvas, 187.3 x 203.2 cm. Gift of Mrs. Susan Davidson, 1971, Donated by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, 1988. © 2017 Art Gallery of Ontario.

“Painting, all forms of art, is an experience of wanting to communicate with others and affords us great freedom if we want it. I want it. I like risk. The risk of searching for things more profoundly...It is so amazing that everything that makes up a person also makes up the universe; it makes up colour, creates matter, and people.”

Rita Letendre. La Tourmente, 1962. Oil on canvas, 81.2 x 99.7 cm. Gift from the collection of Bruno M. and Ruby Cormier, 1985. © 2017 Rita Letendre and Art Gallery of Ontario.

“Light and colour, and sometimes the absence of colour, have always been the key elements in my painting. With its different values, colour reflects the shades of life. But light, from the first shock of birth to the last breath of life – light is life.”

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Rita Letendre: Fire & Light is generously supported by The Women's Art Initiative.

Government Partner:  Canada Council for the Arts

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