Antoine Plamondon occupe une place privilégiée dans l'histoire de la peinture québécoise. Né à l'Ancienne-Lorette en 1804, il fit son apprentissage artistique (1819–1825) avec Joseph Légaré de Québec pour aller ensuite parfaire sa formation (1826–1830) dans l'atelier parisien de Jean-Baptiste Paulin Guérin. De retour dans la capitale du Bas-Canada en 1830, Plamondon ne tarda pas à connaître le succès aussi bien comme portraitiste que comme peintre de toiles religieuses. C'est à son pinceau que l'on doit, entre autres, les fameux portraits de Cyprien Tanguay (1832) et de soeur Saint-Alphonse (1841), et les remarquables stations d'un chemin de croix destiné à l'église Notre-Dame de Montréal (1836–1839). C'est également celui qui se disait fièrement un "élève de l'École française" qui contribua à la formation des peintres François Matte et Théophile Hamel à compter de 1834. Polémiste redoutable au tempérament aussi vaniteux que belliqueux, Plamondon était très jaloux de sa clientèle et il ne ménageait guère ses concurrents, en particulier les étrangers. Apparemment désireux de réduire ses coûts d'opération, il décida en 1851 d'aller installer son atelier à Neuville où il allait continuer à peindre — avec un bonheur relatif — jusqu'au milieu des années 1880. A sa mort survenue en 1895, il laissait derrière lui un oeuvre considérable qui, selon les données actuellement disponibles, compte pas moins de 257 tableaux religieux, 175 portraits, 16 scènes de genre, 10 natures mortes et 8 paysages.
Antoine Plamondon (1804–1895) and Religious Painting
The Role of the Copy and of Personal Interpretation
Isolated from the centres of European art, the artists of Lower Canada were able to acquire the rudiments of their art, and at the same time to satisfy the needs of parish churches and of religious orders, by copying paintings and engravings brought to North America under the French régime. Before the end of the eighteenth century the practice of copying had become a common one in Lower Canada. For various reasons, historians of Quebec art have tended to neglect this phenomenon. In the case of Antoine Plamondon, for example, although his portraits have been much studied, more than half of his œuvre consists of religious works, and Plamondon considered his copies of these historical scenes by other artists to have been of greater importance than his own original portraits. He perceived the copy as being intimately linked to the original, which was, in turn, an object oftremendous admiration. When satisfied with his copy, Plamondon considered it representative of the attainment of an ideal, while his contemporaries automatically associated his virtuosity in the achievement with that of the model on which it was based.
Depuis le sinistre de décembre 1978, la chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur de la basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, qui ne subsistait plus que sous l'aspect de vestiges, fut restaurée et redécorée. Malgré cette reconstruction, la chapelle, située au chevet de l'église, suscite un intérêt et des éloges jamais vus auparavant. Renommée jusque-là pour son décor luxuriant tout en bois, ses qualités n'avaient néanmoins jamais fait l'unanimité. Depuis les années 1920 en particulier, les défenseurs de l'architecture moderne lui reprochaient l'"étonnante et inutile complication" de son décor pour ne lui concéder que le seul mérite de son matériau, alors jugé noble. Ces critiques n'empêchaient cependant pas les pèlerins de se laisser envoûter par la richesse de ses formes, la patine de ses bois et la chaude polychromie de l'ensemble. Somme toute, elle était admirée et décriée au nom du romantisme et du rationalisme, et non pas tant pour ses qualités réelles. L'ancienne chapelle demeure encore mal comprise et cela à quelques années de son centenaire.
A New Look at the Old Chapel, Notre Dame-du-Sacré-Cœur of the Church of Notre-Dame, Montreal
Since the December 1978 fire that damaged the Sacré-Cœur Chapel of the Church of Notre-Dame in Montreal, the exceptional character of the Chapel has become clearer than it had been prior to that date. Previously, pilgrims had admired its warm ambiance, whereas proponents of modernism had been offended by its overloaded decor, but neither group had appraised the true qualities of the Chapel's architecture. Plans for an addition to Notre-Dame Church were prepared in the spring of 1888 by architects Maurice Perrault (1857–1909) and Albert Mesnard (ca.1870–1906) at the request of the churchwardens. At that time, the plans included vestry offices, a chapel and sacristies, as well as rental space for offices and shops, and a skylight. The rental spaces were subsequently eliminated and the overall plan simplified in the interest oflowering building costs. Construction was begun at the end of the summer of 1888 and was completed for the inauguration of the Chapel on 22 September 189l.
In January 1882 William Cornelius Van Home took up residence in Winnipeg and assumed the duties of General Manager, Canadian Pacific Railway, responsible for supervising the completion and operation of Canada's long-awaited transcontinental line. Van Home was prompt to realize the need for an efficient, large-scale promotional scheme to attract world attention to the opening of the North West. He knew that the economic survival of the C.P.R. would depend upon the successful settlement and commercial development of the vast plain between Portage la Prairie and the Rocky Mountains. The demand for freight and passenger service from the existing Western centres along the proposed route (Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver) would be insignificant in relation to the huge capital outlay required for the building of the road. Settlers and the traffic their presence would generate were needed desperately.
Les années trente, loin d'être une période de grande noirceur qui n'aurait eu son terme que dans les actions éclatantes des Pellan et Borduas, présentent, à plus d'un titre, un grand intérêt. Cette décennie est témoin de l'émergence irrévocable des problématiques de la modernité en art, si l'on ne restreint pas sa définition au seul formalisme moderniste (greenberg-hien devrions-nous ajouter) et que l'on date les débuts de la modernité aux ruptures avec l'académisme (ici fortement nationaliste) au profit de la prééminence de l'expérimentation formelle et de l'expression subjective de l'artiste. Celle-ci implique le renvoi au second plan du sujet peint au profit du sujet peignant. Les étapes de ce processus vont du rejet des sujets "officiels" (soit le paysage national) à la mise en valeur de sujets plus modernes ou plus contemporains pour aboutir, à la limite, à l'abstraction non figurative. En parallèle se consolide un discours critique valorisant cette vision de plus en plus subjective de la réalité objective. En Europe, cette transformation se fait au milieu du XIXe siècle alors que ses répercussions furent plus tardives en Amérique du Nord; Au Canada l'ouverture à ces tendances modernes ne se réalise vraiment que dans les années trente, malgré quelques tentatives dès les années dix et vingt.
Modernity and the Social Conscience
Progressive Art Criticism in the 1930's
The 1930's in Canada witnessed a pronounced interest in European modernism in art that corresponded with intensified criticism of the Group of Seven and artistic nationalism, particularly in Montreal. Concurrently, an economic crisis encouraged some artists and critics to reflect on the social function of the artist and the ways in which art could be adapted to the service of a new and better world. These factors combined to create an interest in such American government programs as the WPA/FAP (Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Projects), and in the debates about the democratization of art which surrounded them. This article analyzes three typical examples of progressive positions in art criticism from this period: that taken by Graham C. McInnes in his articles in Saturday Night and the Canadian Forum, the stance advanced in the newspaper Le Jour, and the art criticism published in the Daily Clarion.
The rise of a Post-Modern architecture over the past decade and the rapid growth of public interest in architectural preservation have sparked a broad renewal of interest in the traditional vocabulary of architecture. It is a vocabulary in which ornament plays a predominant role and thus the appearance of Dr. Jean Weir's The Lost Craft of Ornamented Architecture: Canadian Architectural Drawings, 1850–1930, is timely. In this catalogue of an exhibition which sought to bring to light "for public consumption" a representative portion of "the volumes of architectural drawings stacked, filed and hidden away in numerous archival collections," Dr. Weir presents nearly ninety works by some twenty-three architects whose practice was wholly, or at least significantly, Canadian.
In order to make use of the unindexed volume under discussion it is best to turn to the Appendix (you will need a magnifying glass). Mark where one province ends and the next begins, develop a set of symbols so that you may arrange the buildings by date, develop your own index for architects' names and, with the help of county maps, construct your own index of counties and cities. Then it will be possible to begin to develop an account of court houses in Canada.
John O'Brian's book is the first in-depth study of the formal and theoretical sources for David Milne's work. Although the text is not long and the illustrations, called "reference photographs" by the publisher, are never larger than two by three inches, the book is rich in ideas, and constitutes a superior piece of scholarship that will have continued importance. It was edited by Dennis Reid and is part of the recent extension of the activities of Coach House Press into serious studies of Canadian art and architectural history. For O'Brian this culminates an involvement with Milne's work that began when he was an M.A. student in Toronto and continued with an exhibition and the catalogue David Milne: The New York Years, 1903–1916 for the Edmonton Art Gallery in 1981. The text of the Edmonton catalogue evolved slightly to become part of the Coach House book.
In recent years a number of fine histories and monographs on Canadian and American artists have been published, adding greatly to the understanding of these two artistic traditions. Most of these books have concentrated on one artist or movement and have not attempted to place the subject within a larger context. This type of approach has helped to establish the individualism and greatness of North American painting apart from European art. David Milne and the Modern Tradition of Painting by John O'Brian is among the important new books which look beyond political boundaries to find the relationship between the artist's work on the one hand, and modern painting and art theory on the other.
Elizabeth Collard's long-awaited new book was a greater pleasure to receive than many for, by her earlier Nineteenth-Century Pottery and Porcelain in Canada (1967) and numerous articles, Mrs. Collard is known as a meticulous researcher and a crisp and incisive writer.
The Potters' View of Canada is a focussed study of that hotly-collected category of nineteenth-century English and Scottish white-bodied table and serving wares that were decorated with transfer-printed and Canadian-oriented views, motifs and legends, particularly for export to the Canadian market (though they were sold elsewhere as well). The well-known Death of General Wolfe transfer-printed jugs and teapots, for the most part based on Benjamin West's famous panoramic painting, appeared first in about 1780. However, these were for a primarily British memorabilia market.
There are those who claim that the art of building—or architecture—is the beginning of all the arts. Yet in contrast to other arts like painting, sculpture, drawing or photography, architecture does not generally use the museum exhibition as a forum for appreciation. Architecture, in fact, is a public art, accessible outside museum or gallery walls to all who wish to see. A recent phenomenon in the cultural field is the attempt to examine the art of architecture through exhibitions. It raises a number of fundamental questions. How can one adequately examine the theme if the end product, the building, cannot (in most cases) be part of the display? To what extent can architectural exhibitions, inevitably focussed on process, lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of the completed masterpiece? Without the principal works, what artifacts can a curator choose in order to explore architectural creativity?
The Watercolors of David Milne is an exhibition worth remarking upon for two reasons: the institution which has organized it is American; and a presentation of Milne's watercolours in a well-chosen survey is needed. When (since it does not happen often) an American institution initiates an exhibition of Canadian historical art, the event deserves applause. In the same way that Canada is preoccupied (and properly so) with researching and reconstituting fresh histories of its art, the United States is likewise preoccupied with its own national art. Doubtless, fresh histories are needed on both sides of the border. But there is a price to be paid for such self-absorption if it leads to the kind of provincialism which overlooks or minimizes events in the neighbouring jurisdiction, and the price to be paid is greatest if the object of investigation is an artist like David Milne, who belonged as much to one country as the other. (Milne lived in the United States from 1903, when he left Ontario to go to art school in New York City, until 1929, when he returned to Ontario to stay until his death in 1953.) The historian who misunderstands this, who fails to comprehend that locational shifts inform sensibilities in unexpected and complex ways, puts himself or herself at serious risk.