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

Annual Bulletin 3, 1979-1980

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A Selection of Books Illustrated by 
Quebec Artists  between 1916 and 1946

by Jean-René Ostiguy

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5    

The Training of Quebec Illustrators

A large number of Quebec artists began doing illustration while working for newspapers and magazines. Many of them had acquired experience in drawing and engraving at the School of the Art Association of Montreal, which as early as 1903 had organized an exhibitions devoted to the members of an association of artists employed by the best-known newspapers.

In the field of book illustration as such, however, the first works to capture critical attention were done by artists for whom illustration was a secondary activity. Subsequently, as one can well imagine, the teachers of decorative composition or engraving at the École des Beaux-Arts - which opened in Quebec City in 1920, or in Montreal (9) in 1923 - did not fail to point out to their pupils the possibility of finding employment in the publishing industry, especially since these schools were created at a time when the renewal of the illustrated book was reaching its culmination in Europe. In fact, the catalogue (10) of the Premier Grand Salon des Anciens des Beaux-Arts de Montréal mentions an exhibition of French books containing 30,000 volumes; the exhibition seems to have been organized by the school in 1925 with the assistance of the Déom, Méthot and Pony bookstores. Ten years later a newspaper article (11) reported the opening of an important exhibition on the French-Canadian art of book-binding, at the Montreal Library. Also discussed were the illustrated book and the contribution of the teachers and students of the school toward it.

Apart from the educational context, a large number of artists became interested in the resurgence of woodblock printing in Europe, and so discovered the effect this had had in the book industry. In a letter (12) to his brother-in-law Ernest Rolland in 1923, Adrien Hébert showed himself to be a great admirer of Raphaël Drouart. Hébert had, no doubt, been acquainted from some years with the illustrations of this artist, who was discussed in the magazine Art et Décoration in 1921 in an article by Raymond Escholier. (13) Adrien Hébert as well as his brother Henri are both known to have subscribed to this magazine, which they read assiduously. And when he wrote this letter, Hébert knew that he was going to have to make eight woodblock prints to illustrate some Canadian short stories for publication by Editions du monde nouveau when he returned to Montreal. (14)

Rodolphe Duguay began to do woodblock printing in 1925 with the aid of manuals by Maurice Busset (15) and Morin-Jean. (16) At that time he became friends with his compatriot Louis-Phillipe Beaudoin, a student at the École Estienne in Paris, and with him he visited the shops of professional engraver-illustrators.

Finally, just before returning to Canada in 1927 he acquired Charles Saunier's recent book Les Décorateurs du livre. (17) Similarly, Edwin Holgate became interested in woodblock printing in Paris in 1921. He acquired a work done by an acquaintance, the young German engraver Fride Miller. Three years later he took part in a woodblock printing exhibition at the Art Association of Montreal with Yvan Jobin and Maurice Lebel. Shortly thereafter, having undoubtedly done a fair amount of reading (18) on the subject, Holgate taught woodblock printing at the École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal.

From these reference points one can gain a fairly clear idea of how there came to be established in Quebec a tradition of woodblock printing that contributed greatly to the resurgence of fine illustrated books.

A Stroll Through the Garden of Illustrated Books in Quebec

Let it be borne in mind that the successes of illustrated books in Quebec early in the twentieth century owed nothing at an to woodblock printing. Louis Hémon's Maria Chapdelaine, illustrated by Suzor-Coté in 1916, contains only reproductions of charcoal drawings (fig 1), as does Les Rapaillages of Lionel Groulx for which Joseph-Charles Franchère produced a cover (fig 2) and eleven hors-texte plates in 1919. La Campagne canadienne by Adélard Dugré, illustrated by Ozias Leduc in 1927, falls into the same category, with the notable difference that the drawings are integrated into the text. As did the publishers of Lionel Groulx's book in printing the drawing on the cover page (fig. 2), Leduc often omitted one side of the frame in order to lighten his compositions (fig. 3). As the French artist Laurent Desrousseaux (1862-1906) liked to do in his illustrations (fig 4) for Jean Richepin's La Glu (Modern-Bibliothèque, 1905), Leduc included the explanatory legends in the pictures. Sometimes he invented highly fanciful shapes and border lines, examples of which are also found in the work of Henri Emilien Rousseau (1875-1965), another Parisian illustrator. The cover (fig. 5) for Pierre L'ermite's L'Emprise (Bonne Presse, 1926) is a striking example of European works in this genre. Moreover, Le manoir hanté, a short novel by Régis Roy, published in 1928 and illustrated by Jean Paul Lemieux, as well as Louis F. Rouquette's Le grand silence blanc, illustrated by Clarence Gagnon - which received much more attention - remotely suggest the influence of woodblock.

The case of Jean Paul Lemieux is a unique one for a number of reasons. While the artist benefited from Holgate's teaching and friendship, he was never interested in engraving. He met Clarence Gagnon at a time when this master was working almost exclusively on projects for illustrations, and he too planned to pursue a career in illustration. Unfortunately, Lemieux very soon abandoned this idea because he was not receiving orders regularly. Nevertheless some of his works should be mentioned, including his illustration for Le manoir hanté, published in Montreal by Louis Carrier in the Les Cahiers populaires series. In this novel the frontispiece and the seven drawings (fig. 6) appear to be in close harmony with the spirit of the text. They are greatly stylized and could lead one to believe that the artist was an admirer of Émile Heaume (who had been supplying occasional woodblock prints and drawings to various French publishers since the twenties). Certain drawings (fig 7) for André Maurois's Niange ni bête reveal similarities between the two artists.

Clarence Gagnon doubtless earned the title of Quebec's first decorator of modern books with his illustrations for Le grand silence blanc (fig. 8), published in Paris by Mornay. For this work Gagnon used a procedure that was uncommon in France in book illustration as such, namely silk-screen printing (19) from monotypes executed in gouache. It is not known how he arrived at this procedure; what is known is that he had been an expert etcher twenty years earlier, when he was in pursuit of an esthetic that associated hill more closely with the Canadian painter Horatio Walker. Subsequently, the examples of James Wilson Morrice and Camille Maufra or Charles Cottet led him in a new direction, as did his contact with the Canadian artists and their milieu. From 1925 onward, the influence of the famous French illustrator and animal painter, Henri Deluermoz, led Gagnon conclusively to a new formal expression similar to what Mornay (the publisher) was looking for. In a curious reversal of influence, Deluermoz was to collaborate with L. J. Soulas in illustrating J. O. Curwood's Nomades du Nord (Mornay, 1932) and would have no qualms about borrowing Gagnon's method of treating northern subjects (fig 9).

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