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Marcelin Cardinal.Roseline Cardinal/Courtesy of family

Marcelin (Marcel) Cardinal: Artist. Bon vivant. Husband. Pioneer. Born April 26, 1920, in Gravelbourg, Sask.; died Oct. 25, 2019, in Montreal, of heart failure; aged 99.

Marcelin was the fourth of seven children born to Stanislaus and Eugenie Cardinal in Gravelbourg, Sask. When the Depression put his father out of work, the family moved six hours north to Makwa to take up a pioneer lifestyle. There was no school and wouldn’t be one for two years; 11-year-old Marcelin was left to his own devices. His main companions were his pony, dog and rifle. Marcelin thrived in his new rugged environment, relishing in the solitude and openness of northern Saskatchewan. Here, he began to develop his love of nature and sense for space and colour that would be reflected in his art.

In 1938, having completed primary school and just two years of high school, he left home and worked at odd jobs. He joined the Canadian Army during the Second World War and his early life served him well – he was a skilled marksman. Trained as a commando, he was seconded to the British Army to train their commando recruits.

In 1941, Marcelin visited the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal and the experience was transformational. It was at that point that he decided to pursue life as an artist after the war. As an artist, he was self-taught and in 1947 had his first solo exhibition in Montreal.

In 1950, after having spent the winter in Paris, Marcelin headed to the Côte d’Azur. While skin diving in the Mediterranean, he noted distortions to light caused by water, and that open areas were filled with differing qualities of light, colour and texture. This realization became central to his work. He established himself in Le Cannet, France, where he had contact with Picabia, Léger, Matisse and Picasso. In the mid-1950s, he set up a second base in New York close to the Cedar Tavern where he rubbed shoulders with Pollock, Kline, de Kooning and Rothko. From 1951 on, Marcelin worked solely as a painter, doing most of his work in Le Cannet and sailing to New York to sell his work.

In 1962, Marcelin took his Citroën to a garage in Cannes where he met Roseline Bernaud, 21, who had been visiting the mechanic’s daughter. Roseline was so struck by Marcelin that, without realizing it, she agreed to meet him later at a local art gallery. She didn’t show up and, realizing her mistake, Roseline wrote and apologized. They began dating and married on a visit to New York in 1965, becoming inseparable for the rest of his life. They would have no children, but Marcelin often referred to his paintings as their children.

The couple returned to live in Montreal in 1970, and the walls of their apartment were covered with Marcelin’s most personal works.

Perhaps contrary to expectations for an abstract painter, Marcelin was precise in everything he did, and he expected similar precision in others. He was organized, tidy and an excellent cook – and since timing is so important to good cooking, he expected his guests to be punctual and could become annoyed if they weren’t. However, he would quickly lighten his mood by pouring aperitifs and telling an entertaining anecdote.

Marcelin had many solo exhibitions and his art is included in private and public collections, including the Hirshhorn Museum, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and Musée du Québec. Every day, thousands of Montrealers see his mural on the platform of Saint-Michel metro station.

In his last years, Marcelin remained agile and sharp, and was looking forward to reaching his 100th birthday. Instead, Marcelin’s family and friends will celebrate his 100th birthday and the life of this extraordinary man.

Roseline Cardinal is Marcelin’s wife; Christopher Lucarotti is a friend.

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