Honorary Degree Citation - Alfred Pellan*

by J. Russell Harper, June 1971

Mr. Chancellor:

I have the honour. to present to you Alfred Pellan, distinguished Canadian painter.

The name "Pellan" has been synonomous with the highest levels of artistic creation since that memorable occasion, now 31 years ago, when he held his first Canadian exhibition in Montreal. There the nation found paintings by a native son which were of staggering power. They probed into the very nature of the subconscious, penetrating man's inner soul. They accomplished this through his sheer inventiveness in exploitation of colour, line, texture and allusion. There Pellan set a standard of creativity for Quebec and Canada which rudely jolted art out of the traditional past and substituted a new aspect where the roots grow from the living present. His accomplishments were those towards which every aspiring artist has since striven, even though his personal art is of such tremendous complexity and ingenuity that he has had but few direct imitators.

Pellan, I know, looks forward both to many years of future activity and grows in artistic stature with each newly completed work. On the other hand, his accomplishments have made him a virtual legend. This legend started early. The National Gallery of Canada purchased a canvas for its collections while he was still a sixteen year old student. It is amusing to recall that during his student days in Paris, orthodox Quebec well wishers requested that Clarence Gagnon, ·a naine to be reckoned with in Canadian art, keep an eye on young Pellan. They were afraid that he might stray from the even keel of tradition in view of the many undesirable temptations in the world's art capital. Pellan may not know that the letter survives in which Gagnon reported, in horror, that he could do nothing with the obstinate young "pup" who had lost his head over Picasso and other fearsome revolutionaries. Yet it was Pellan's own incredible ability, power of concentration, and depth of preception, enriched by association with Picasso, Max Ernst, Miro and others, out of which initially grew his unique contributions to Canadian art.

May I point out that Pellan's role in Canadian art has been twofold. At home, his easel paintings are in the collections of every major art gallery and displayed in every part of the land. His murals, theatre designs and teaching has enriched Canada and Canadians. Abroad he has served as Canada's artistic ambassador on innumerable occasions. He was the prize winner at the first great exhibition of mural art in Paris, the first Canadian to be given a retrospective exhibition at the Musee d'Art Moderne in that same city, and represented his country in the 1952 Venice Biennale. His works have been in Canadian exhibitions in England, a dozen other European countries, the United States, South America, and in every part of the world where Canadian painting has been displayed. His many distinctions include a Royal Society of Canada bursary, a senior fellowship of the Canada Council, and the award of the Companion of the Order of Canada.

Mr. Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you, on behalf of the University Council and by authority of the Board of Governors, Alfred Pellan, that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris casua.

* deceased