Journal of Canadian Art History / Annales d'histoire de l'art canadien


Vol. XXXII:1 (2011)


Autobiographie critique et analyse de l'œuvre

translated summary:
Critical Autobiography and Analysis of the Work

I truly must have been born under a lucky star. My parents had been living in Paris for three years where my father Maurice Gagnon (1904–1956), was studying art history at the Sorbonne, with Henri Focillon and other towering figures, before he turned towards art criticism. I was born on 18 June 1935 and our family returned to Montreal just three weeks later. My direct connection to modern art – "living" art, as we called it – was in large measure due to my father. As I have recounted elsewhere, my earliest childhood memory involves visiting the Borduas family. When Fernand Léger (1881–1955) came from France to Montreal in 1944, we hosted him; and the poet Éloi de Grandmont was a frequent visitor as well. One night, Charles Daudelin (1920–2001) drew two immense figures on our living room wall. Louis Muhlstock (1904–2001) came too; I still remember him scaring us kids silly with his severed arm trick.


Mortgaging Canada
George Reid's Mortgaging the Homestead and the 1891 Federal Election

In the late 1880s and early 1890s the Toronto artist George Reid (1860–1947) painted a number of canvases inspired by memories of his childhood. Born in 1860 in Wingham, Ontario near Goderich on Lake Huron, Reid had worked on the newly cleared farms of his father Adam Reid and maternal uncle James Agnew, familiarizing himself with all aspects of rural life. Suspicious of his son's interest in art, Adam Reid tried to direct him towards a career in architecture but in 1879, George began his studies with Charlotte Schreiber (1834–1922) and Robert Harris (1849–1919) at the Ontario School of Art in Toronto. Three years later he moved on to study with Thomas Eakins (1844– 1916) at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia where he met his future wife, a fellow art student Mary Hiester (1854–1921) of Reading, Pennsylvania. Married in May 1885, that summer the couple travelled through France, Spain, and Italy, settling in Toronto on their return. It was in the summer of 1886, on a visit to the family homestead at Wingham that Reid began his first farm painting, Call to Dinner (McMaster University Art Gallery), a large canvas of his sister Susan against a landscape bathed in bright sunlight that recalls Winslow Homer's well-known painting The Dinner Horn of 1870 (National Gallery of Art, Washington).

La Rue Saint-Denis, au cœur de la modernité francophone montréalaise

translated summary:
La Rue Saint-Denis, the Heart of Francophone Modernity in Montreal

Formal analysis of the painting La Rue Saint-Denis by Adrien Hébert (1890–1967), in tandem with the social, cultural and political histories of Quebec, allow us to explore the symbolic significance of the picture's subject matter. The thematic content of Hébert's image is, in fact, the focus of this discussion. In 1927, when he painted La Rue Saint-Denis, this bustling street was the nexus of French Canadian modernity in Montreal. The large, vertical format of the work is unusual for the artist, whose horizontal street scenes rarely exceeded eighty centimetres in height. Because of its geographical location and its social context, Hébert's contemporary urban view, more than merely anecdotal, reflects the numerous changes inherent in the modernization of francophone Quebec during the late 1920s. Parts of Saint-Denis Street and its Quartier Latin were at the hub of Montreal's transformation into a modern city. Yet amid the signs of contemporary city life depicted by the painter – streetcars, automobiles and billboards – rises the spire of Saint-Jacques Church (the seat of Montreal's first archdiocese), an affirmation of the powerful presence of religion.

Lawren S. Harris's Self-Portrait
Critical Milestone on a Remarkable Human Journey

A unique Self-Portrait by Lawren Harris (1885–1970) has received very little attention over the years, perhaps with reason. There is no record of Harris ever having made reference to it, and it was not included in either of the two major retrospectives of his work organized during his lifetime. It has been publicly exhibited only twice; at the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto in 1932 right after it was painted, and in an exhibition devoted to his abstract paintings that was organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, shown there in the fall of 1985 and subsequently in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Halifax. It was actually painted for the Arts & Letters Club exhibition, one of the events organized for the Monthly Dinner of Saturday, 27 February 1932; a letter to members a few days before announced that a "gallery of portraits of the artist members by themselves will be formally opened." Given that context, it is possible that it was not meant to be taken entirely seriously, and indeed, the first Harris scholar to identify the work refers to it as "a satirical likeness which emphasizes his resemblance to Charlie Chaplin." Charles S. Band, the prominent Toronto collector and a friend of Harris's, acquired the work either from the exhibition or shortly after. It remained with the Band family until recently donated to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Charles and his wife, Helen, seem not to have displayed the work often in their home. When I first viewed it in 1979 it was in their attic, propped up against a box close to and directly facing a west window. Mrs. Band explained that Harris had advised this treatment to diminish the tendency of the white paint to yellow.

Quitter le maître, accomplir sa différence
les voies divergentes de Borduas et Alleyn

translated summary:
Moving on from the Master
The Divergent Paths of Borduas and Alleyn

A study of the relationship between master and pupil throws light on the influence of the one upon the other. Such complex interactions possess, naturally enough, a professional dimension but also an emotional, personal one. Some last a lifetime and evolve into veneration; others end in rejection and betrayal. This text presents a study of two fascinating but very different relationships – between Ozias Leduc (1864–1955) and his apprentice Paul-Émile Borduas (1905–1960), and that of Jean Paul Lemieux (1904–1990) and his pupil Edmund Alleyn (1931–2004) during the period when Quebec was moving towards modernity.


Originality is perhaps an exhausted concept, but I would be derelict in my responsibilities as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Canadian Art History were I not to list the ‘firsts’ represented by this issue. First of these is the Journal’s recognition of a Canadian art historian through the commissioning of a series of articles honouring his contributions to the field. This model is, of course, the Festschrift, a collection of original essays published in celebration of a scholar whose work has not only informed, but inspired his colleagues and students. Being scholars, we write “in honour of …” but this serious tone does not mute the expressions of pride, pleasure, and just plain good luck at having in our midst a scholar of the intellectual quality and critical penetration of Francois-Marc Gagnon. A Festschrift normally marks a milestone in the career of the honouree. This one comes as Francois-Marc Gagnon completes his tenure as founding director of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, having graciously accepted to continue his association with the Institute as its distinguished research fellow. We can expect more to celebrate as he completes two major publications and irrepressibly, as we know him, invests himself further in the work he loves.

Guest Editorial

Honouring Françoise-Marc Gagnon

This issue of the Journal of Canadian Art History and another to be published in 2012 celebrate the career of the eminent art historian Francois-Marc Gagnon. The texts constitute a Festschrift in honour of his direct and indirect contributions to Canadian art history, whether through his own numerous writings or through the work produced by two generations of Canadian scholars, who have been inspired by the brilliance of his ideas and the relentlessness of his devotion to our discipline. For many of us, he is and will always remain the very image of a mentor. It is impossible to satisfactorily summarize his professional career in Canadian art history that began over forty years ago. A mere overview of Francois-Marc’s accomplishments – his teaching in Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa and Israel, his public lectures and scholarly conferences nationally and internationally, his awards and prizes, his many advisory positions, his curatorial work, and his wide-ranging publications – would constitute a substantial text on its own. The second part of this Festschrift, however, will make one contribution to his unwritten biography by publishing a detailed bibliography of his almost three hundred texts, from his early art reviews in Montreal newspapers to his new books that will have appeared by 2012.

Hommage à Françoise-Marc Gagnon