National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 15, 1971

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The Preparatory Drawings for the Decoration of 
the Baptistry of Notre-Dame Church Montreal

by Jean-René Ostiguy

Article en français

Page  1

The forty-six drawings reproduced in this Bulletin are exceptionally revealing of Ozias Leduc's personality as a church painter. He carried out numerous projects of church ornamentation in Canada and the United States between 1892 and 1944, but so far only that of Notre-Dame's baptistry has been so well documented by preparatory drawings and written texts. Assembled, these drawings and documents show how the artist from St-Hilaire, at the age of sixty-two and at the peak of his career, worked with great enthusiasm, inspired by the hope that his efforts would lead to a renewal of the Quebec tradition of church decoration.

The repeated use of religious symbols in the baptistry drawings calls for an explanation of Leduc's interest in symbolism.

After his eight months' stay in Paris in 1897, when he first encountered the symbolist movement, he often mentioned the artists Gustave Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes and Edward Bume-Jones. He subscribed to the magazine Art et Décoration, and several of his friends were symbolist writers; among these were the poets Marcel Dugas and Guy Delahaye and the writer Robert de Roquebrune, who gave a lecture on symbolism in Montreal in 1918.

His friendship with the Sulpician, Olivier Maurault, an admirer of Joris Karl Huysmans, deepened Leduc's interest in symbolic expression in church decoration. When he read the theories of Maurice Denis cannot be precisely established but Denis's name does not appear in Leduc's writings until July 1922. At the time Leduc began his decoration of Notre-Dame in the autumn of 1927, he seemed greatly moved by the recent visit of this French artist to the baptistry of the church of Saint-Enfant-Jésus, which Leduc had decorated some ten years earlier.

Two texts establishing Leduc's familiarity with symbolist painting should be mentioned. One is a long laudatory description of the John Singer Sargent murals in the Boston Public Library. The other is a letter to Pierre Deligny Boudreau dated 22 September 1953, in which the artist, with difficulty because he was then eighty-seven years old, explains the symbolic meaning of his Sherbrooke painting The Finding of Jesus in the Temple.

If, when he was working on the Bishop's chapel in Sherbrooke (his greatest work), Leduc was looking for "la couleur de la Sainte-Chapelle," can we not say that at Notre-Dame in Montreal he has tried to reproduce the atmosphere of the side chapels of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois? And that he sought, assembled as in a dark, transparent jewel box, the most striking and effective symbols to express his deep religious faith.

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