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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Andre Charles Bieler

The Garden Party, Andre Charles Bieler. Though many of Bieler's
paintings seem to me to be boring in content, even unattractive,
this one I particularly like.
Most artists tend to be remembered first and foremost for the art they've created over their lifetime. That's largely to be expected. However, every few weeks I come upon an artist for whom that's not the case. Their work is often "average" at best, and sometimes I don't find it particularly appealing. Coupled with that, frequently the artist did not leave behind a very large body of work. However, such an artist may, in fact, be far more important for what he or she accomplished quite apart from their easel work. There are artists who create art and those who facilitate art. The Canadian painter, Andre Charles Bieler is one of the latter.
Gatineau Madonna, 1940, Andre Charles Bieler.
Though Andre Charles Bieler is, indeed, very much a Canadian artist, he was, in fact, born in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1896. However, his family moved to Montreal when he was twelve years old, where he lived out the rest of his life. And inasmuch as he lived to be ninety-three, I'd say that pretty well makes him a bonafide Canadian. Andre Bieler's father, had been the director of the Collège Galliard. His mother, Blanche, was the daughter of the historian Jean-Henri Merle d'Aubigné. After the family immigrated to Canada, Biéler's father took a position as a teacher at the Presbyterian College, Montreal. Biéler studied at Westmount Academy and then the Institut Technique de Montreal, intent on becoming an architect. With the advent of World War I in 1914, Biéler joined the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Bieler was wounded at Sanctuary Wood in 1916 and badly gassed in 1917 after Passchendaele. He left the regiment, but not the war effort, having been reassigned to Headquarters, Topographical Section, as a map draughtsman with the rank of sergeant until the end of the war. By that time he had risen to become the head of the section. With every member of the staff painting and drawing in their spare time, and exciting visits by several established Canadian artists, Bieler's interest in art was aroused once more. He returned home to apply his war veteran's gratuity to a three-month's course at the Art Students' League, Woodstock, N.Y. Most of the students there were young war veterans like himself, stimulating one other and their teachers, American artists such as George Bellows, Eugene Speicher, and Charles Rosen.

Back home in Montreal, his short three month art course completed, Bieler was restless. He found no inspiration in William Brymner at the local Art Association School, so he eventually decided to go to Paris. He studied at the Ecole du Louvre with Paul Serusier and Maurice Denis. From there Bieler went on to enlarged his experience with a visit to Switzerland, where he worked with his uncle painting murals in the Town Hall of Le Locle in the Jura Mountains. As a result, Bieler gained valuable experience in planning large murals, handling fresh mortar, and painting in the technique of the true fresco. Bieler was released from the army while still in Paris, whereupon he took up studies at the Lycée Carnot. In 1919 Bieler returned to Canada, then went to Florida to recuperate. There he met Harry Davis Fluhart, who also gave him art lessons. Later He received a veteran's grant to once more study under Charles Rosen and Eugene Speicher at the Art Students League in New York. During the 1920s, Bieler spent most of his time back in Switzerland working with his uncle and in studying at the Académie Ranson in Paris.
Bieler's art studies were quite far-flung--Canada, Switzerland,
New Your, Paris, even Florida.
In 1930 Biéler set up a studio in Montreal, earning a living through commercial art and by teaching. Bieler and a friend tried their luck establishing an art school, which failed. Thereafter he formed a lunchtime group of other Montreal artists calling themselves the "Oxford Group" (after the tavern where they met). Biéler worked with Jeannette Meunier, a young interior decorator and designer. Through her he became involved in design of theater sets and costumes, furniture, interiors, fabrics and posters. In 1931 Biéler and Jeannette Meunier married. Together they often visited the Laurentian Mountains on painting expeditions. In 1935 the Biélers moved to Saint-Adèle, a quiet town in the Laurentians.

Leaders of the Federation of Canadian Artists at a
meeting in Toronto in 1942. From left to right Arthur Lismer,
Frances Loring, Lawren Harris, André Charles Biéler,
and A. Y. Jackson.
I originally suspected this might
be a self-portrait, but inasmuch
as it's dated 1969, and given the
family resemblance, it could well
be a portrait of Bieler's son, Ted.
The following year, however they moved back to Canada when Biéler became a professor of art at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. There, Biéler organized the first conference of Canadian artists in 1941. This led to the founding of the Federation of Canadian Artists (above), of which Biéler was the first president. Biéler later provided the impetus which led to the formation of the Canada Council in 1957. He was also the main organizer of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston in 1957. He became its first director. In his spare time, Bieler developed a pneumatic relief printing press, and formed a company to run it. André Charles Biéler died in Kingston, Ontario in 1989, survived by his wife and four adult children.

From the Pulp and Paper Series, Andre Bieler.
Biéler's style was more similar to that of contemporary French painters, in particular, those of the "School of Paris," than to any Canadian art movements. His early work shows the influence of his uncle Ernest, with the close attention to line and form. His later paintings, prints, sculptures, and murals treat traditional subjects in a modernist style. He made lively genre pictures of life in rural Quebec, depicting figures working in groups or gathering around churches, in harmony with the landscape. Though Andre Bieler was a broadly trained artist in every sense of the term, it was his leadership skills and educational efforts, which have set him a cut above his Canadian peers.

Family, île d ' Orléans (Quebec),
1977, Andre Charles Bieler

Sur Le St. Laurent, Andre Charles Bieler


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