Visitors to the province of Québec are often impressed by the distinctive character of its architectural landscape; it has something of a French provincial air about it, something of a British colonial spirit, yet it is also North American, though unlike other parts of North America. The architectural distinctiveness of Québec is a reflection of its historical evolution. Discovered by Jacques Cartier in the sixteenth century and colonized by France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Québec was transferred to British rule in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years War. Although the impact was not immediately felt, successive waves of immigration, first the loyalists from the United States after 1776, dispossessed farmers, genteel younger sons and military men from Britain after 1800, implanted British cultural values and symbols on the former French colony. By the time Confederation became a reality in 1867 yet another influence, that of the burgeoning United States of America, had made itself felt as railways and canals accelerated the pace of cultural exchange. It is this amalgam of influences in concert with the exacting requirements of a harsh climate which determined the nature of housing in Québec before Confederation.
Freedom and its synonyms dominated the vocabulary of Canadian artists, intellectuals and politicians in 1948. In February, the issue of freedom divided the Montréal avant-garde into two hostile factions: the Prisme d'Yeux, led by Alfred Pellan and the Automatistes, led by Paul-Emile Borduas. The ideological basis of the debate on freedom is disclosed through an analysis of the clashing definitions of freedom contained in the manifestoes of the contending avant-gardes, and in two works produced by their leaders in 1948: L'homme A grave by Pellan and Objet Totémique by Borduas. Furthermore, through an examination of the critical reception of the Prisme d'Yeux and the Automatistes in 1948, and of contemporary politics, one may locate the interface of the aesthetic debate and the most contentious aspect of the discourse on freedom: the strategies to be used against communism in the Cold War, which as one writer noted in 1948, "est l'affaire de tout le monde."
A Semiotic Approach to a Painting by Borduas
3 + 3 + 4
Of the three principles of linguistics, syntax, pragmatics and semantics, this semiotic study will emphasize pragmatics, which is to say, the application of syntactical elements to a precise context, in this instance Borduas' work entitled 3 + 3 + 4 (1956). This method will require first of all an elucidation of the syntactical model to be used. Topological semiotics provide for a description of the plastic language based on the following processes of identification: a) the basic elements of the plastic language; b) those syntactical rules which govern their interrelationship within the support that constitutes the basic plane. From these two processes may derive a third concern, the semantic dimension of the work.
To review one's own work is either to run the risk of public self-justification, self-congratulation, self-promotion, apologia, confessional lapses or to adopt an overly laudatory stance. Self-critique is as biased and as revealing as the original manuscript and its criticism by others. Yet one can argue that in specialized areas of research, an author is often more familiar with the material than one's colleagues and can contribute further insight on the subject in review format. While some might question the ethics of the practice, it offers the opportunity for self-analysis, annotations and additions that otherwise would not be made public until a much later date, usually in the form of a revised preface if there is a second printing.
Having contemplated various stylistic modes ranging through the satiric, the anecdotal, the narrative and the academic prior to writing this review, I have chosen the last. Hopefully my choice of style will not totally obscure the inherent humour I find in this situation. I have also chosen to write the review in the first person. To do otherwise would mask my responsibility for writing both the catalogue and this review.
The study of architectural history in Canada has finally come of age. Ten years ago Harold Kalman wrote an article, "Recent Literature on the History of Canadian Architecture," in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (Dec. 1972, Vol. XXXI), remarking on the new interest in the subject. This concern with Canadian architecture is broadly based including not only specialists such as architects, preservationists and historians, but the general public as well. As a result of this increased fascination with the built environment, a number of books, periodicals, organizations and lecture series have appeared firmly establishing the discipline.
I have just been reviewing Tom Wolfe's Bauhaus to Our House for another publication. I don't know whether Canada as a whole is ready for Tom Wolfe yet or not; certainly my base, Victoria, isn't. My God, can you imagine Tom Wolfe in Victoria? However, I digress, and I haven't even started to review Dom Bellot … . Yet actually it's not entirely a digression, for there is a connection. Tom Wolfe and Robert Hughes (and many others lately) have been usefully reminding us how much was lost in the Bauhaus Blitz; what a clean sweep these European manifesto-manufacturers made of American traditions, American heritage, American craftsmanship and for that matter, American common sense. But that obliteration of the past wasn't only limited to the United States. Among Gropius's earliest converts were Canadians who had gone down to the "shrine" he presided over at Harvard; on returning they were just as zealous as any Bauhauslers to wipe everything "bourgeois" (i.e. everything architectural and sculptural from ca. 1870 to 1940) off the landscape, in the name of some optimistic Utopian new world to be created any day now. The Dom Bellot tradition of church architecture was among their victims. They didn't physically demolish its buildings; since they were churches in Québec that just wasn't possible. But the churches could be and were made to seem out of date, out of fashion, contemptible, in consequence "le style Dom Bellot … c'est une page brève," lasting twenty years, 1930-1950. All the more useful, then, to have so fine a study made of it now.
The New Brunswick Landscape Print … does not claim to be a definitive study, but is seen by its author as a foundation for further research and analysis. Given the textual content of the catalogue, there would appear to be much room for such exploration. A one-page introduction hints at a variety of important points, but rarely expands on them or refers to actual examples to illustrate them. Of the 117 prints included in the fully illustrated catalogue, Hachey is careful to point out that seventy-nine are lithographs, nineteen are aquatints and nineteen are engravings; further counting reveals that of the thirty-nine artists identified, twelve served in the British Army; twenty-four of the prints were produced in England, thirty-two in the United States, four in Canada and seven are of unknown origin. Apart from its statistical value, no conclusions are derived from this ciphering. Throughout the catalogue, the reader is left to draw his own associations between the text and the prints. This is unfortunate, since it is evident that a great deal of research went into assembling the exhibition, yet this is not always reflected in the introduction or the catalogue notes.
Joyce Zemans' catalogue comes as a welcome addition to scholarly art historical writing, especially for an artist as crucially important and as little known in a critical sense as Jock Macdonald. The author, with her diligent research, immensely readable prose and masterful organization, has eliminated many of the lacunae which plague the serious study of Macdonald.
Professor Zemans' method of approaching her subject from a chronological viewpoint works remarkably well. Such an approach runs the risk of turning biography and criticism into an incoherent stream of facts and comments. Yet Macdonald emerges not as a character in search of a novelist, but as a celebrity in need of just such a biographer as Zemans. Her success in this regard is due largely to her decision to use Macdonald's striving, from the early 1930's onwards for an art which would match his own philosophical beliefs, as the leitmotiv of the catalogue. So strong is this current that the reader feels a disappointing sense of regression with the landscapes of the early 1940's after the enthusiastic discussion of Macdonald's emerging symbolism during the 1930's. Following the artist through his experiments with theosophy, the modalities, the automatics and his work with Painters XI, we arrive at the late works, the most completely successful of his entire oeuvre, with a sense of relief and pleasure. We finally see Macdonald's art as the successful search for reality beyond matter and in harmony with all Nature. In having thus given her catalogue such a strong sense of artistic inevitability leading to an ultimate goal, the author has created a solid framework which she can decorate with anecdotes and analyses without allowing them to obscure her central thesis.
A comprehensive retrospective exhibition of the work of J.W.G. (Jock) Macdonald (1897-1960), a founding member of Painters Eleven in Toronto, is certainly overdue. Dennis Reid and Ann Pollock's small but estimable 1970 exhibition of Macdonald's work at the National Gallery was the first since the artist's death, but still was not based on a great deal of original research. This current exhibition, organized by Joyce Zemans, Associate Professor in art history at York University, includes 157 works and reflects several years of research and study on her part.
Both the exhibition and catalogue are divided into thirteen time periods, providing a useful breakdown of a rather complex and varied œuvre. To Zemans' credit, she has managed to convey a good idea of Macdonald's social milieu during his years in Vancouver (1926–47); his musical evenings with the Vanderpants, for example, and his relationships with Lawren Harris and F.H. Varley are well documented. Much of this cultural/social history has been recorded in published form concerning Montréal and Toronto artists but Zemans' research makes one aware that this sort of work should be undertaken on other cities in Canada in order to shed light on artistic production in smaller centres.
The work of Alfred Pellan has chronically received little serious Scholarly attention; the work of Reesa Greenberg during the last decade, however, has reversed this state of affairs. In her most recent contribution to the field, The Drawings of Alfred Pellan, Greenberg uses formalist methodology and the principles of connoisseurship to trace Pellan's "drawn œuvre in terms of intent, chronology, and style, as well as their (sic) relationship to the paintings" (p. vii). The lengthy text is illustrated with reproductions of every drawing contained in the National Gallery of Canada exhibition for which the catalogue was produced, a major achievement on Greenberg's part, as most of these drawings have not been previously published. Dates and provenances are established for each drawing included in the catalogue; in addition, the catalogue contains an appendix providing a hitherto unpublished concordance of Pellan's drawings of 1948 and the poems from Paul Éluard's Capitale de la Douleur which inspired them. Despite Greenberg's meticulous research, thorough documentation of the drawings, and many original contributions to the study of Pellan's work, The Drawings of Alfred Pellan has serious weaknesses which arise out of the limitations of the author's conception of art history.
About five years ago, the late Amy Goldin commented in Art in America that "art in Canada is oppressed by the fear of provincialism" and she then went on to suggest that this might help explain why "Canadian artists are eager to compete for international recognition." It must have been with some satisfaction, then, that Roald Nasgaard, Chief Curator of the Art Gallery of Ontario learned during the 10th International Sculpture Conference held in Toronto in 1978 of the interest on the part of European curators and critics in an internationally touring exhibition of Canadian art.
The result of this encouragement was 10 Canadian Artists in the 1970s, which after opening in Toronto, circulated for eight months to three centres in western Europe (although I must admit I had to use an atlas to locate two of the cities). Fortunately the artists are much more familiar: Baxter, Bush, Ewen, Favro, Kennedy, Martin, Moli-nari, the Rabinowitch twins and Snow. That is to say, three "painter-painters," three multimedia conceptualists, two minimalist sculptors, one conceptual painter and one "process-painter." The exhibition was accompanied by a hefty, well-designed and fully illustrated catalogue where the artists' statements seem to be as important as the works themselves.
The compilation and design of a permanent collection catalogue in many ways resembles the assembling and mounting of a large and complex exhibition of works of diverse schools, periods and media, in one place at one time. The analogy holds in that the catalogue must do justice to the individual works and to the overall theme of a gallery's acquisition practices, through an articulate, logical, consistent and sensitive arrangement of the whole material. The catalogue therefore is more than simply a record of contents and will invariably condition the user's attitude toward the institution and the collection that it houses. It is therefore essential that it be carefully researched and skilfully designed for maximum didactic efficiency and convenience of use.
The catalogues of the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (R.McL.G.) and the University of Guelph Art Collection (U.G.A.C.) are the main subjects for this review. The Robert Hull Fleming Museum (R.H.F.M.) checklist is included here since it offers an alternate and distinctive solution to the common problem, as viewed by a museum of comparative scale and scope of operations. One can safely assume that the decision to publish in each case was one made on the basis of a collection that quite recently, both qualitatively and quantitatively appeared to demand this summation in print. Given the prohibitive costs involved in printing illustrated material it cannot have been a decision either undertaken lightly or without considerable planning.
The recent surge of interest in the portrait miniature is undoubtedly due in part to economics; the miniature has the advantage of being both an original work of art and an antique, but is small enough to be portable in our mobile modern world. For this reason, it is usually listed as one of the more "sure investments" in a column such as that of Robin Duthy in Connoisseur (v. 207: 832, pp. 125-26). This pragmatic interest, however, has fostered a growth of scholarship and publication dealing with portrait miniatures from the point of view of art history. In the last two years, more than twenty-five books, catalogues or periodical articles have appeared regarding miniatures, from the broadest type of introduction to a scholarly history and descriptive analysis of one particular portrait. It is clear that Hickl-Szabo is right in stating that "the portrait miniature is very much in demand as a collector's item" (Portrait Miniatures in the Royal Ontario Museum, 1981, p. 1).