Recent Acquisition: Paul-Émile Borduas’ copy of "Refus global"

Written By: Lisa Sloniowski, English Literature Librarian and Chair, Special Collections Working Group.

Le Refus global

“Make way for magic! Make way for objective mysteries! Make way for Love.”

York Libraries is pleased to announce our recent acquisition of artist Paul-Émile Borduas’ personal copy of the important manifesto Le Refus global (Total Refusal). This acquisition will complement the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections’ strengths in materials relevant to the Canadian avant-garde and Canadian history.

Arguably the most important manifesto to be published in Canada during the 20th century, Refus global is recognized as helping to trigger the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. A “cri de couer” of a frustrated generation, the manifesto argued against the stifling control of the clergy, right-wing nationalism, and the corruption of the Duplessis government, while arguing for freedom -- of artistic expression in particular. The authors were members of an artistic movement called Les Automatistes, whose approach to art was inspired by Andre Breton’s Surrealism. They sought to release creativity through the expression of subconscious desires. Les Automatistes were considered to be rebels by some, revolutionaries by others, as Quebec in this period was a heavily censored society with limited access to information on sexuality, European avant-garde art movements like Cubism or Surrealism and many other topics. Indeed, in 1937, only 26 of Canada’s 642 public libraries were in Quebec (Bailey). The publication of Le Refus global caused great controversy in the province and Borduas lost his teaching job at the École du Meuble as a result of it.

Only 400 copies of this limited edition book were printed in 1948; ours is numbered 131. Mimeographed by a small local press, the format is

in line with the nature of the manifesto and its revolutionary content. It implies a clandestine, underground work. … The manifesto becomes a book but a book in parts - physically since it is made up of unsewn gatherings and in content - which shows a fragile unity or at least integrity. The presence of gatherings on coloured paper, printing in red and black for the Commentaires sur les mots courants, numerous photographs, of the double wrapper - paper and cardboard - illustrated by Jean-Paul Riopelle, and the numbering of copies are more characteristic of a livre d'artistes. (Michel Brisebois)

This work is accompanied by three books: the booklet Projections libérantes by Paul-Émile Borduas; the catalogue of the 1962 Borduas exhibit organized by the National Gallery of Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Gallery of Toronto as well as Le Refus global vingt ans après by Adèle Lauzon. In addition to the main text by Borduas, this document contains essays, two plays, drawings and photographs, and all the contributions of its fifteen other signatories: Magdeleine Arbour, Marcel Barbeau, Bruno Cormier, Claude Gauvreau, Pierre Gauvreau, Muriel Guilbault, Marcelle Ferron, Fernand Leduc, Thérèse Leduc, JeanPaul Mousseau, Maurice Perron, Louise Renaud, Françoise Riopelle, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Françoise Sullivan.

Related material:

Asimakopulos, Anna, and Henry Lehman, ‘Automatists Are Celebrated 50 Years Later’, CBC Digital Archives <> [accessed 18 April 2012].

Bailey, Patricia, ‘Right to Refuse - Arts & Entertainment - CBC News’ <> [accessed 18 April 2012].

Borduas, Paul-Emile, ‘Refus Global Manifesto - The Canadian Encyclopedia’ <> [accessed 18 April 2012].

Brisebois, Michel, ‘The Automatists and the Book’, Report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences, 1998 <> [accessed 18 April 2012].

Gagnon, Francois-Marc, ‘Borduas, Paul-émile’, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, 2000 < > [accessed 18 April 2012].

Gagnon, Francois-Marc, ‘Les Automatistes - The Canadian Encyclopedia’ < > [accessed 18 April 2012].

‘1948: Launching of Le Refus Global’, CBC Digital Archives <> [accessed 18 April 2012].

Internet et Services numériques, Archives numérisées, ‘Le Refus global, révolution totale - Les Archives de Radio-Canada’ <> [accessed 18 April 2012].

Link to related material held by York University Libraries available here.

[update 30 April 2012]: An ambiguous phrase in this post has been corrected after the author was alerted by an online reader.  We thank you for your comments and feedback.



2 comments on “Recent Acquisition: Paul-Émile Borduas’ copy of "Refus global"

  1. Pingback: La Laïcité au Québec: un processus inachevé |
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