Over the years I have researched various portrait photographs by William Notman (1826–1891) held by the Notman Photographic Archives at the McCord Museum of Canadian History. This led to an enquiry into his publishing ventures and the marketing of photography. The first of his four publications was Photographic Selections, a portfolio published by the Montreal printer John Lovell in 1863 for approximately 360 subscribers. It was also the first art history book printed in Canada. The selection of forty-seven plates included two of his own landscape images, Fort Chambly, near Montreal, qc , 1863 and Road Side, Lake of Two Mountains, as well as ten photographic copies of engravings after Renaissance and Baroque paintings and twenty-seven photographs of pictures by contemporary British, French and American artists, some of which came from local collectors. The remaining eight images of recent British and North American paintings in Montreal collections were originally photographed by Notman.
The narrative's details are specific to a time and place, but its structure is old and clichéd: a variation on a biographical conceit common since at least the time of Vasari. A young man in a backwater village longs to be an artist but the circumstances are unfavourable. His father dies of typhus when he is only six years old, leaving a widow with five young children and a failing business. His formal education is rudimentary. The village schoolmaster reprimands him for drawing caricatures in his school notebook. He abandons the classroom at the age of eleven to take on a series of manual labour jobs.
When James Wilson Morrice travelled to Venice during the last years of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth century, he gave much of his time and attention to the areas around the Rialto Bridge and the Piazza San Marco. This is hardly surprising as the two sites were the most famous Venetian monuments, even to those who had never seen the city. In the late nineteenth century, Venice was undergoing renewed celebrity as travel tourism increased, catering to the enormous numbers of people who were seduced by the plethora of publications, photographs, and postcards that lured more and more visitors to the city. The Rialto represented the commercial heart of Venice while San Marco symbolized the authority of the Venetian republic; both had attracted travelers and tourists for over a thousand years and Morrice was no exception. Certainly, he drew and painted various other sites: near the Public Gardens at the eastern end of the city, close to the church of San Trovaso to the south, and around Campo Santi Apostoli toward the northwest. But their numbers are slim in comparison to his images of the two places that had defined Venice in fact and legend since the city's official founding in 421. The material and topographical configuration of San Marco and Rialto allowed Morrice to construct and experiment with what could be considered his archetypal image of urban Venice: an open foreground of water or forecourt of pavement against a pierced wall of buildings disposed within a carefully contained rectilinear space in a gentle grid-like composition. That said, this text will look at one painting of the Rialto that largely contradicts Morrice's more familiar images of the City of Saint Mark.
Basement with Tailor's Dummy
Louis Muhlstock's Testament to a Time and a Place
This visual analysis of the painting Basement with Tailor's Dummy, ca. 1940 by Louis Muhlstock (1904–2001) allows for a parallel survey of the social, cultural, and historical climate of Montreal during the Depression. After his return from three years of art studies in Paris in the early thirties, the young artist was much concerned with the deplorable living conditions that prevailed at the time in what is commonly known as the McGill or the Jewish ghetto. In her recent book, Jewish Painters of Montreal, Esther Trépanier explains that these artists were the first to depict their immediate environment, giving priority to the visual dynamics of form, colour, and composition, although there was comparatively little attention to the human presence. About his own paintings of the period, Muhlstock said: “These subjects were all in Montreal … They included people and the streets and lanes of Montreal, the slum parts of the city, around the harbour and the Mount Royal, these were the areas that I frequented.”
Paul-Émile Borduas and the Foundation of the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal
The hypothesis underlying this article is that the 1973 acquisition by the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (MACM) of the Fonds Paul-Émile Borduas (1905–1960) constituted the foundational act of the museum, which had opened in 1965. The institution, initiated by a group of collectors and artists and ratified by the Ministère des Affaires culturelles, had not hitherto clearly established either its parameters or its mission. Its holdings (90% of which were prints) had for the most part been received as gifts from Quebec artists, and the acquisition budget was used principally to purchase examples of French Lyrical Abstraction.
Anyone interested in the history of New France, Jesuit missions, seventeenth-century natural history, the natural history and ethnology of early Canada and, not least of all, Canadian art, should rejoice at the publication, at long last, of Louis Nicolas' Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas. Indeed, it should be a double celebration since McGill-Queen's University Press has issued a magnificent edition with a superbly edited text accompanied by excellent reproductions of Louis Nicolas' beautiful drawings, all printed on fine paper.
This issue of the Journal of Canadian Art History continues a celebration of the career of François-Marc Gagnon that began in Volume XXXII:1 as a tribute to his extraordinary accomplishments in all aspects of our discipline. For both issues, texts were commissioned from scholars in the field of Canadian art history whose work, one way or another, has intersected with François-Marc Gagnon’s own writings, lectures and teaching. The leitmotif of the Festschrift has been the use of a particular work to initiate a discussion; what direction that investigation might take was the author’s decision. Such freedom to hypothesize, analyze, and theorize is essential to François-Marc Gagnon’s own way of thinking and it has thus been the thread that weaves together the contents of this two-part Festschrift.
What is a Festschrift? The root of the word is ‘celebration’ – and this is what a Festschrift does. In this case, the Journal of Canadian Art History has set out to honour the contributions of Francois-Marc Gagnon by offering him a collection of essays commissioned by JCAH/AHAC’s publisher and founding editor Sandra Paikowsky. This issue is Part II of that collection. It includes original scholarly articles, a complete bibliography of his work, and a review of his most recent publication, The Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas: The Natural History of the New World. There is much to celebrate here in the work of a finely tuned, questioning mind applied to a variety of topics and approaches but there is also something to think about in the very nature of this endeavour.