Jacques de Tonnancour was born in Montréal, Québec in 1917. He studied at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal in 1937, but left the college three years later, unsatisfied with its conservatism. He rented a studio with several friends and began to study the works of other painters, such as Goodridge Roberts whom he admired.
In his youth Tonnancour explored painting, photography, and writing. His artistic career began painting landscapes and still lives, later his works were more abstract and he experimented with collage and “painting-writing”.
In 1945, de Tonnancour was awarded a grant by the government of Brazil and settled in Rio de Janeiro for sixteen months. He created a number of major canvases inspired by the luxurious and exotic environments.
In the 1950s, he returned to Canada and traveled to the Laurentians, the landscapes inspired him personally and his artwork. In 1959, his “squeegee” technique was developped. As his career shifted towards an abstract approach to painting he explored mixed techniques and the art of hieroglyphics.
In the 1980's Tonnancour attended a conference in South America which renewed his interest in entomology, a subject he had studied earlier in life. He devoted himself to collecting and photographing insects.
Tonnancour received a number of prestigious commissions, both public and private. He taught at various times at the Université du Québec à Montréal, the University of British Columbia and Mount Allison University. Concordia and McGill Universities awarded him honorary doctorates.
Tonnancour was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979 and was awarded the Order of Québec in 1993. He is a member of The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and the Société d’art contemporain.
He died in 2005.