Montreal’s loss is Quebec City’s gain. The Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation announced Thursday that it is transferring its plans for a centre dedicated to the modernist artist’s legacy to the Musée des Beaux Arts in Quebec. Plans to build a Riopelle wing at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) were cancelled last year after the museum, under financial pressure due to the pandemic, decided the proposal might prove too costly.
In the lead up to the Riopelle centenary in 2023, the Foundation unveiled a plan Thursday to donate $100-million worth of art to a proposed Espace Riopelle as well as $20-million in cash towards the construction. The donation is being made by five of the foundation’s founders, British Columbia home builder Michael Audain, Quebec philanthropists André Desmarais and France Chrétien Desmarais, mining executive Pierre Lassonde as well as the artist’s daughter, Yseult Riopelle. Meanwhile, the Quebec government is chipping in $20-million, doubling the amount it had promised the Montreal museum.
That previous grant was called into question when the MMFA dismissed director Nathalie Bondil in 2020 and plans for housing the Riopelle centre at that museum were eventually cancelled. Ms. Bondil’s successor, Stéphane Aquin, has pulled back from her aggressively expansionist program for the museum and has said the proposed wing was not fiscally responsible.
In Quebec City, the Espace Riopelle will hold the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work, including the 60 art works donated by the Foundation and a $2.5-million reinstallation of his late masterpiece Tribute to Rosa Luxemburg, already in the Beaux Arts collection. Construction will start next year on the new pavilion, located at the museum’s site on the Plains of Abraham, and will cost $42-million. The centre is scheduled to open in 2025.
“It was the artist’s long-cherished dream to see such a project carried out,” Mr. Audain, chair of the foundation, said in a statement. “On the eve of the centenary celebrations, it is the finest gift and the most striking recognition that we can offer him. Riopelle is unquestionably one of the most outstanding artists of his period and we are delighted that a site worthy of his impressive contribution … will be dedicated to his oeuvre.” In the 1980s, Mr. Riopelle had considered establishing a centre devoted to his art and others in the former Quebec City prison.
Quebec’s most internationally celebrated visual artist, Mr. Riopelle was known for his multicoloured abstract paintings with heavy impasto. As a young artist he was associated with the Automatiste movement in Montreal but he soon moved to Paris and made his career in France. He began returning regularly to Quebec in the 1970s before resettling there permanently. He died in 2002.
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