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

Bulletin 2 (I:2), December 1963

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Towards a History of Art in French Canada

by Jean-Paul Morisset

Article en Français

Page  1

There was a time when Canadian art was thought to have originated during the early nineteenth century. Today we know that the first manifestations of art in Canada began with the school of art established by Mgr de Laval at Saint-Joachim, near Quebec, in 1684. Although our knowledge of subsequent developments of French-Canadian art is still incomplete, and entire regions unknown, a great deal of information has been accumulated over the past forty years.

In 1920, Emile Vaillancourt published the results of his research concerning the Quebec school. The work of amateurs and historians, the indefatigable work of Marius Barbeau, the monographs by G. A. Neilson, E. R. Adair, and R. Traquair, contributed to the monumental work by Traquair in 1947, The Old Architecture of Quebec. Publications by Alan Gowans of the University of Delaware, E. P. Richardson of Detroit, J. Russell Harper of Ottawa, and R. H. Hubbard of the National Gallery of Canada, should be mentioned.

After a period of neglect and destruction, from 1875 to 1920-30, the isolated efforts of scholars such as Abbé Jean-Thomas Nadeau, and the systematic work by Gérard Morisset, Curator of the Musée de la Province de Québec, in 1936 established a centre of research and documentation, l'Inventaire des oeuvres d'art. It was not only a matter of assembling basic material but also of filling in chapters of the history of French-Canadian art.

Until recently the indifference of leaders in education towards a positive attitude to nearly two hundred years of civilization was deplorable. Lately, however, there are indications, as at the University of Montreal, that in the near future we can expect recognition by French Canada of this important part of her heritage.

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