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Alfred Pellan Wide-awake Dreamer

May 14, 2014 to April 3, 2022

Alfred Pellan, the wide-awake dreamer, explored a great many art forms, techniques and materials, a demonstration of his visceral need to create. A display worthy of this artist imbued with Surrealism, from universal quest to individual expression and from grand paintings to everyday objects.

This exhibition provides visitors with an opportunity to dive into the surrealist universe of Alfred Pellan, one of the best-known figures of Québec’s cultural modernity. During his extended stay in Paris, from 1926 to 1940, Pellan was smitten with Picasso’s Cubist space and the Surrealist universe of Breton, Ernst and Miró. While he was not an official member of the famous group, preferring to maintain his artistic independence, Pellan was always responsive to this “state of poetry” which, to his mind, was the movement’s essential quest. It was only when he returned to Québec in the 1940s that this Surrealist direction in his artistic idiom was confirmed. While it initially took the form of illustrations of poetry, Pellan’s affinity with the movement quickly extended to his entire artistic practice, as can be seen in the thematic repertoire, stylistic elements and Surrealist techniques he regularly employed.


Alfred Pelland is born on 16 May in Québec City. Around 1930, he removes the “d” from his family name.

Pellan enrols in the newly-opened École des beaux-arts de Québec on Saint-Joachim St. in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood.

Alfred Pellan and Omer Parent are the first recipients of the province of Québec’s arts grants. The two friends set sail for Paris, where Pellan enters the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts.

Back home because of the Second World War, Pellan exhibits 161 works at the Musée de la province de Québec (today the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec). This exhibition, entitled Alfred Pellan, also mounted on a reduced scale at the Art Association of Montreal (today the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), is the opportunity for Pellan to launch an initial attack against academicism in favour of a living art.

Pellan is named the École des beaux-arts de Montréal’s professor of painting. The following year, several of his students mount a noisy protest against the academicism that reigns there, demanding the departure of the school’s director, Charles Maillard, who resigns a few months later.

Fourteen artists band together around Pellan for the exhibition Prisme d’yeux (Prism of Eyes), accompanied by a manifesto of the same title. The text, written by Jacques de Tonnacour and signed by all the artists, expresses Pellan’s commitment to an independent art that is open to more than one artistic movement.

On 23 July, Alfred Pellan marries Madeleine Poliseno, whom he met in the summer of 1947 at a social gathering at the home of Jacques de Tonnacour.

The couple settles in Sainte-Rose in a nineteenth-century home near Mille Îles River. This house, where Pellan has his studio until his death, is today is the property of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

The Musée national d’art moderne de Paris presents Pellan, the first true large-scale retrospective exhibition of Pellan’s work.

The documentary film About Pellan, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, is launched at the opening of a solo exhibition at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. The opening takes the form of a happening, with members of the public in costume and multi-coloured slides projected onto dancers dressed in white.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée du Québec organize the joint exhibition Pellan, the first retrospective of his work on Canadian soil.

Alfred Pellan receives the prestigious Paul-Émile Borduas award, the highest distinction in the visual arts in Québec.

With Alfred Pellan’s agreement, the Musée du Québec and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal join forces to mount a major exhibition of his paintings. Pellan dies on 31 October this same year. The exhibition Alfred Pellan, une rétrospective is finally shown in Montréal and then Québec City in 1993.

The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec acquires the Maison Alfred et Madeleine Pellan.

The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec receives a bequest of Pellan’s studio archives in keeping with the last wishes of Madeleine Poliseno-Pelland, who passes away on 27 September. The Musée now holds the largest collection of Alfred Pellan’s work.