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Feeling 350 Years of Art Practice in Québec

Starting in the 1880, landscape painting, an artistic genre universally appreciated by critics and the public alike, allowed artists to approach their work with greater subjectivity. They were thus able to use the unique character of their perception of light and colour as a pretext to free their painting from the grip of academicism. This liberation gave rise to a succession of aesthetic schools based on Romantic, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist landscape painting.  But above and beyond the question of artistic styles, landscape was primarily a window open to the world of visual sensations.


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    Walker, Horatio, Labour aux premières lueurs du jour, 1900. Huile sur toile, 153 x 193,9 cm. Achat en 1929. Restauration effectuée par le Centre de conservation du Québec.

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    Brymner, William, La Femme au métier, 1885. Huile sur toile, 61 x 63 cm. Achat en 1929.

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    Pilot, Robert Wakeham, Labour d'automne, Sainte-Agnès, PT-Q., 1936. Huile sur toile, 86 x 112,3 cm. Achat en 1938. Restauration effectuée par le Centre de conservation du Québec.

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    Cullen, Maurice, Le Port de Montréal, 1915. Huile sur toile, 115,3 x 174,2 cm. Achat en 1929.

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    Gagnon, Clarence, Matinée d'hiver à Baie-Saint-Paul, entre 1926 et 1934. Huile sur toile, 54,6 x 73,7 cm. Achat.


Visual sensations, yes, but not only! Artists who go out into Nature find themselves in a world composed of numerous changing and simultaneous sensory perceptions.  With the change of seasons, the experience of landscape is completely transformed: colours, lights, sounds, odours, meteorological phenomena and the presence of human beings and animals shape the sensations that artists aspire to reconstruct in their work. The representational strategies they develop to convey their impressions, and have us feel them, constitute the main subject of this room.

It is not surprising that photography has figured prominently in the development of landscape art. At times an adjunct to the artist’s work, at times a document that, because it can so readily be reproduced, has served the purposes of education, tourism or national construction, the photograph is also a work of art in its own right. The presentation of various technical approaches that showcase the strengths and constraints specific to each discipline in the depiction of landscape offers a complete panorama of the evolution of this major genre in the history of Québec art.


New installation

L’Alcôve-école is a partnership between the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and Université Laval

Publicly, Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis (1890-1959), leader of the Union nationale party, showed little interest in art and culture. Nevertheless, he discreetly built up a collection of considerable value. During his second term in office, between 1944 and 1959, he was offered many artworks by advisors and business people, not all of which he accepted. He was especially fond of such nineteenth-century European artists as Camille Corot, Eugène Boudin and William Turner, but he also appreciated the Quebec landscape painters Cornelius Krieghoff and Clarence Gagnon. Montreal’s leading gallerists, well aware of his tastes, would regularly suggest works for his consideration.

In September 1959, the Premier died suddenly. A month later his sister bequeathed his collection of paintings to the Musée de la province (now the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec), and by December the director, Gérard Morisset, had put the works on display. Crowds flocked to see the collection, composed of sixty-three oil paintings, one watercolour and one gouache. The donation was widely discussed in the press and aroused much interest – some of it unscrupulous.

In May 1965 the museum was robbed: of the twenty-eight paintings stolen, twenty-three were from the Duplessis collection. After an investigation that dragged on for four years – and included an Interpol search warrant – the purloined paintings were finally found … in Limoilou. During the subsequent trial, it was revealed that the thieves had been planning to sell the artworks to finance pressure groups opposed to the secularization of Quebec’s education system.

This installation, entitled Power(s), highlights the contrast between Maurice Duplessis’s taste in art and the painting of his time. In 1945, even before the publication in 1948 of the Prisme d’Yeux and Refus global manifestos, Lucyl Martel’s painting Studio sparked a scandal at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal and helped bring about the resignation of its director, Charles Maillard, criticized for his conservative attitudes. Like Martel, Sam Borenstein, Jean Soucy and Madeleine Laliberté offered a modern, uninhibited vision of art, society, family life and war that bears no trace of the nostalgia emanating from the works in the Duplessis collection.

See the works presented in the Alcôve-école in our thematic album.