A New Look at the Portrait of Mother Catherine of Saint-Augustin
Painting conservators develop a privileged relationship with works of art. Not only do they come to know them intimately during the course of examination and treatment, but they also participate actively in their transformation when layers of discoloured varnish or overpaint are removed. This process can occasionally reveal many surprises, as was the case with the portrait of Catherine Simon de Longpré de Saint-Augustin (1632–1668). The conservation treatment has enabled viewers to rediscover both the original painting and the fine work of the artist. It has also allowed the discussion around the provenance of the painting to continue, to situate it firmly in a historic and artistic context. The portrait of Mère Catherine de Saint-Augustin remains a precious object for the Augustine nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. For twenty years, Mère Catherine's generosity, devotion, and spiritual fervour made a lasting impression on the young French colony. She served the community first as a nurse, then as keeper and director-general of the hospital. Beatified by the Vatican in 1989, Catherine de Longpré stands out among the founders of the Catholic Church in Canada. Oral tradition relates that the portrait was made at her deathbed, following a period of poor health that claimed her life in May 1668 at the age of thirty-six.