The lush abstract paintings of Quebec artist Marcelle Ferron (1924–2001) can be found, says the Canadian Encyclopedia, in the collections of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paolo, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, among other collections.
But from 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on September 7, 2019, Ferron’s work will also be featured in a rather more public-facing venue: as the Google Doodle on the search page at Google.ca.
“The design is loosely based on her stained-glass works in metro stations in Montreal,” says American illustrator Lydia Nichols, who has created several Google Doodles in the past, and was assigned to work on this one, too. “I love that her stained-glass works are often in public space—I think that’s an interesting transition from the white walls of the gallery and I think it shows how art movements change.”
Indeed, after painting prolifically in tandem with fellow Automatistes Jean-Paul Riopelle and Paul-Émile Borduas in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Ferron shifted into a few large public stained-glass artworks. The most famous of these may well be the 60-metre-long, 9-metre-high window at Champs-des-Mars metro station in Montreal, installed in 1968. Ferron also created a stained-glass memorial at Concordia University to honour the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Initially, Montreal gallerist Simon Blais, who helps represent Ferron’s estate, was uncertain about whether a Google Doodle about her and her work was a good idea. But he came around to it when he thought about the thousands of people it might reach.
“This is the first, I believe, for a Canadian modernist painter,” says Blais. “So we said, ok, let’s do it.”
In February, Blais mounted a show at his gallery pairing works by Marcelle Ferron and Jean-Paul Riopelle. In March, he received the call about the Google prospect, and checked with the estate on permissions.
Ferron was the only female artist who signed the Refus Global in 1948, and her work regularly appears at auction in Canada, with the latest top price achieved being $217,250 at a Heffel auction in May. But despite her importance, many remain unaware of her talent.
Blais hopes that the Google Doodle will make at least a few more Canadians aware of the power of Ferron’s work. The new Doodle will link to more information about her. After September 7, the Doodle will also be archived at google.ca/doodle as a resource for the future.
“I find it challenging and humbling” to try to represent the legacy of any artist in such a short form, says Nichols on reflection.
She adds, “I thought that [Ferron’s] ability to do abstraction across mediums was really interesting—and it really opened my eyes to the art scene in Canada during that time period.”