Refus Global

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Le Refus global (English: Total Refusal), was an anti-establishment and anti-religious manifesto released on August 9, 1948 in Montreal by a group of sixteen young Québécois artists and intellectuals that included Paul-Émile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle.

Le Refus Global originated from a group called Les Automatistes, led by Paul-Émile Borduas. This group created abstract paintings inspired by French surrealists of the time and scorned all academic teaching available at the time in Quebec. The signatories were also highly influenced by French poet André Breton's stream-of-consciousness style and extolled the creative force of the subconscious.

Le Refus Global was a manifesto that completely rejected the social, artistic and psychological norms and values of Québécois society at the time. Calling for "an untamed need for liberation," the manifesto cried out for "resplendent anarchy" and criticized the "cassocks that have remained the sole repositories of faith, knowledge, truth, and national wealth." Pierre Gauvreau, one of the signatories, said that the main message of the manifesto is that "God does not exist.[1]" Of the 400 published copies of Le Refus Global, selling for a dollar apiece, only about half of them were sold. Notwithstanding, this manifesto caused an uproar, and as a result of this manifesto, Borduas lost his job at the École du meuble de Montréal [fr].[2] Later, the manifesto was translated into different languages and was read in America and Europe.

It has been said by commentators that from the publication of this manifesto, "modern French Canada began",[3] while CBC calls it "one of the most important and controversial artistic and social documents in modern Quebec society".[4] Along with the publication of Les insolences du Frère Untel (the Insolences of Brother So-and-so), the asbestos miners' strike of 1949, and the Maurice Richard Riot of 1955, Le Refus Global is widely seen to have been one of the precursors to the Quiet Revolution.

The document[edit]

The collection, published in 400 copies, contains in addition to the manifest, a series of texts as well as illustrations and photographies[5].

Table of contents of the collection
Cover: text by Claude Gauvreau, drawing by Jean-Paul Riopelle[6]
1. Paul-Émile Borduas "Refus global"[7]
2. Paul-Émile Borduas "En regard du surréalisme actuel"[1]
3. Paul-Émile Borduas "Commentaires sur des mots courants"[8]
4. Claude Gauvreau "Au cœur des quenouilles"[9]
5. Claude Gauvreau "Bien-être"[2]
6. Claude Gauvreau "L'ombre sur le cerceau"[3]
7. Bruno Cormier "L'œuvre picturale est une expérience"[4]
8. Françoise Sullivan "La danse et l'espoir"[5]
9. Fernand Leduc "Qu'on le veuille ou non..."[6]


It is countersigner by 15 artists, including 8 men and 7 women, which are unordinary proportions for this time period[10].

The automatist ideology however isn't the same for all the signatories. Some such as Pierre Gauvreay and Riopelle wanted to catch up to Europe artistically while others such as Borduas and Claude Gauvreau wanted to push the project even further in order for Quebec to undo its image of a « poor little population » in the process of decolonisation. They were searching not only for a radical artistic advocacy but a social one as well. Claude Gauvreau is particularly influenced by the precursors of surrealists and pre-surrealists. He also writes his first poetry collection, Étal mixte, right after his discovery of Vingt-Cinq poèmes by Tzara. In Quebec, contrary to Europe, automatism is better understood by everyday people while being snubbed by the elite, making it more of a movement for the democratisation of art. However, even though there is a reconciliation between popular movements, the art language of the Automatistes isolates and socially marginalizes them.

Context and follow-up[edit]

In the end of the 1940s, Automatism in Quebec quietly imposes itself due to the influences from the written works of Nietzsche and Freud. Borduas, however, doesn't associate with any party. He is considered an anarchist[11] with Refus Global being an observation of the decrepitude of the christian civilization.

Refus Global scandalizes authorities and the press who condemn and censor a large part of the manifesto[12]. Borduas loses his job as a teacher at the École du meuble de Montréal [fr][2] a position that he occupied since 1937[12], and he must exile himself to the United-States[13]. The manifesto isn't too disruptive besides this[14] due to the near inexistance of television as a mass medium[15].

Marcel Barbeau himself, in the documentary "Les Enfants de Refus global", explains that it wasn't a well drawn social movement and that it was more of a manifesto against a very closed social structure. Only later would we associate Refus global to the socio-democratic and neo-nationalist parties[16]. In the 1980s, a period where Quebec wishes to clarify its identity and political autonomy, Borduas is perceived as a hero saving the cultural integrity of the French Canadian population. Since, Refus Global has become a reference that is regularly cited to signal that the « Grande Noirceur » hadn't drowned out all intellectual life of Quebec, presenting itself as a precursor to the Quiet Revolution.

Fifty years later, the interpretation of the meaning behind Refus global in the intellectual history of Quebec continues to draw reflections. In 1998, the Condorcet prize has been given to « All the signatories of Refus Global ». The same year, Manon Barbeau launched the film "Les Enfants de Refus global".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ CBC Archives: Launching of Le Refus Global
  2. ^ a b Resplendent Anarchy
  3. ^ The Automatists and the Book
  4. ^ Le Refus Global: Revolution in the Arts
  5. ^ "ARCHIVÉE - Les Automatistes et le livre - Commission royale d'enquête sur l'avancement des arts, lettres et sciences au Canada". Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  6. ^ Refus (March 21, 2008). "Refus global: Couverture". Refus global. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  7. ^ Refus (March 21, 2008). "Refus global: Couverture". Refus global. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  8. ^ Borduas, Paul-émile (December 16, 2007). "Paul-Émile Borduas: Commentaires sur des mots courants". Paul-Émile Borduas. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  9. ^ Gauvreau, Claude (December 15, 2007). "Claude Gauvreau: Au cœur des quenouilles". Claude Gauvreau. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  10. ^ Mayer, Jonathan (2008). Les échos du refus global. Québec: Éditions Michel Brûlé. p. 13.
  11. ^ "Sur les traces de l'anarchisme au Québec: les années '50". Union Communiste Libertaire (in French). Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  12. ^ a b "Refus global | l'Encyclopédie Canadienne". Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  13. ^ Ethier-Blais, Jean (1979). Autour de Borduas – Essai d'histoire intellectuelle. Montréal: Presses de l'Université de Montréal. p. 40.
  14. ^ Bédard, Éric (2015). Histoire du Québec pour les nuls. Éditions First. p. 251.
  15. ^ Mayer, Jonathan (2008). Les échos du refus global. Québec: Éditions Michel Brûlé. p. 15.
  16. ^ Gauvin, Lise (2000). Les automatistes à Paris. actes d'un colloque [Laval, Qu/bec], les 400 coups. p. 97.

External links[edit]