Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Great Religious Artist Revisited

Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Great Religious Artist Revisited

Article excerpt

In the spring of 1996, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts mounted an exhibition devoted to the work of the Quebec painter Ozias Leduc (1864-1955). In the fall the exhibition moved to Toronto, where it will be shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario until January 15, 1997. An important artist in his time but neglected in recent years, Leduc was famous for both his symbolist still lifes and his seminal church decorations in Quebec and elsewhere. Paul-Emile Borduas (1905-1960), one of the leading Quebec artists of the generation after Leduc and signatory of the influential 1948 manifesto Le Refus Global, hailed him as "the sweetest European fruit to ripen in Canada." In September, Compass arts editor Wanda Romer Taylor interviewed Laurier Lacroix, professor of art history at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal and guest curator of the exhibition, about Leduc and his contribution to sacred art in Quebec. The following is a translation by the interviewer of part of their conversation.

Wanda Romer Taylor: Perhaps we can begin with the man himself. Who was Ozias Leduc?

Laurier Lacroix: He was the son of an apple grower and artisan, born in Saint-Hilaire [near Montreal] in 1864. He seems to have discovered art early in life thanks to one of his school-teachers who noticed Leduc's talent for drawing and encouraged him. So although he also ran his father's orchard, he was a painter all his life.

He worked for an Italian artist, Luigi Capello [1843-1902, who was married to Leduc's cousin], as well as for another artist from Becancour, Adolphe Rho [1839-1905]. In a sense, he had two apprenticeships. On the one hand, the Italian artist-academician Capello, who had studied at the Turin Academy, introduced him to the great European works. On the other, Rho, an inventor, an artist for whom there were never problems, only solutions, helped him develop his technical and manual skills, his skills as a craftsman. And this dual tradition gave Leduc a kind of confidence in his work.

Leduc received many church commissions, about thirty over the course of his very long career. And throughout, he also painted still lifes, portraits, some landscapes and book illustrations.

He was a man whom we know to have been intellectually curious. He read many art journals, American, British, French, as well as Canadian and Quebec ones. He had a large library and in a way brought the world to himself through his reading. And he tried to surround himself with people who could feed him intellectually.

Wanda Romer Taylor: Did he see any conflict between his interest in the craft of art and his interest in religious painting?

Laurier Lacroix: Not only did he not see any conflict, but I think that his so-called secular works are filled with a deep spirituality. In a sense, initially it was the other way around. In his religious work, say before 1910, he drew on a relatively traditional iconography, in which the spirituality was expressed in the most conventional of forms, whereas he could render a much more personal expression of his spirituality in his landscapes and still lifes. It was in the 1910s, when he was doing the Church of Saint-Enfant-Jesus in Montreal's Mile End, the chapel in Sherbrooke, the baptistry in Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal and then the church in Shawinigan South, that I would say there was less of a gap between his secular and his religious painting.

Wanda Romer Taylor: I think it was in Shawinigan South that he did this extraordinary series of paintings of workers and artisans.

Laurier Lacroix: That's right. He appropriated and made personal the traditional iconography. This started as early as the Enfant-Jesus in Mile End, where he placed workers from both the country and the city around the Christ. Many Montrealers then had recently arrived from the countryside, so he depicted workers from the mines and from the quarries of Mile End as well as farmers. In a sense, he was recalling their traditional life as well as their new one. …

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