Sicotte, Helene and Michele Grandbois. Clarence Gagnon 1881-1942: Dreaming the Landscape
Stirling, J. Craig, Quebec Studies
SICOTTE, HELENE and MICHELE GRANDBOIS. Clarence Gagnon 1881-1942: Dreaming the Landscape. Quebec: Les Editions de l'Homme, 2006. Pp. 431. ISBN 2-7619-2208-5.
Since John Porter's appointment in the early 1990s as director of the Musee national des beaux-arts in Quebec (MNBAQ), he has organized a series of exhibitions on individual French-speaking visual artists. Previous exhibitions and accompanying publications examined the lives and artistic careers of Ozias Leduc, Louis-Philippe Hebert, Henri Hebert, Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Cote, and Antoine Plamondon. Clarence Gagnon is the focus of their most recent exhibition and publication. The exhibition showcases over two hundred works of art including paintings, pochades, etchings, drawings, and illustrations from both public and private collections. Like a number of other Canadian artists such as J. W. Morrice, Paul-Emile Borduas, and Jean-Paul Riopelle, Gagnon lived and practiced his art outside Canada for much of his life. Art critics, curators, and art historians have unanimously praised Gagnon for his colorful Quebec landscapes, for his superb etchings of Venice and France, and as one of the illustrators of Louis Hemon's popular novel Maria Chapdelaine (1934).
The Gagnon exhibition catalogue follows the same formula as previous MNBAQ publications. Essays are followed by a chronology, a catalogue of exhibited works, and a catalogue raisonne of intaglio prints, both of which are lavishly illustrated with quality colored photographs, a selected list of exhibitions, and a selected bibliography. The first essay, by Helene Sicotte, is an historical, chronological, and biographical presentation, which is heavily influenced by the information in Rene Boissy's book on Clarence Gagnon (1988). Sicotte's essay suffers from a too literal translation from the French-language text, which results in awkward phrasing and curious wording.
Of more concern are the numerous factual errors and misinterpretations, particularly regarding Gagnon's educational background and training. For example, Sicotte states that Edmond Dyonnet "restructured the course in 1895" (41) after his trip to Europe to study different systems of art education. In fact, he reformed the curriculum at the Conseil des arts et manufactures de la province du Quebec (CAMPQ) art schools in 1892. The course of instruction was not "inspired by the South Kensington School of Art and Design" (41), but was based on the Walter Smith system of drawing and manuals used in CAMPQ's art schools from 1876-91, then was replaced by the Edmond Temple system of drawing and manuals after 1891. …