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

Annual Bulletin 7, 1983-1984

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The Influence of Cézanne on Adrien Hébert

by Jean-René Ostiguy*

Article en français

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Jean-René Ostiguy is Research Curator, Canadian Art, in the National Gallery of Canada.

The early paintings of the Montreal artist Adrien Hébert (1890-1967) appear to be modelled primarily on the work of Henri Martin, Puvis de Chavannes and certain post-Impressionists, Henry Moret in particular. Before slowly settling into the style that became the hallmark of the best Montreal painters of the 1930s - a sort of "tamed Fauvism" - Hébert showed a marked predilection for the form and technique used by Paul Cézanne. It comes as a surprise to see examples of Cézanne's influence in works painted by Hébert in 1921. Later, we find Cézanne's presence still quite vivid in paintings by Hébert that are fairly similar to the work being done by André Derain after 1908, and others that clearly resemble the works of younger classical artists, such as André Favory (1889-1937). Although Hébert did not continue experimenting with those forms of Cézanne that were to be labelled Cubist, his work clearly demonstrates the bond between Cézanne and Canadian art.

Approximately fifteen of Adrien Hébert's canvases, all completed between 1920 and 1925, are painted more or less in the manner of Cézanne. Not all of them are dated, but various historical and stylistic considerations confirm that they were painted during this period. (1)

As a student in Paris in 1912 and 1913, Adrien Hébert did not seem to be interested in Cézanne's work. He may have seen some of the Frenchman's paintings at the Musée du Luxembourg or through the art dealers, Vollard and Bernheim-Jeune, but they do not appear to have influenced him especially. Hébert was drawn to Brittany, where he painted landscapes reminiscent of the work of Henry Moret and Camille Maufra, whose paintings he had seen in Canada in 1909. (2) When Hébert returned to Montreal, his style did not vary a great deal (fig. 1), and from 1914 to 1916, at least, he seemed to be striving to combine the various influences to which he had been exposed as a young artist. The original version of his Decorative Panel, Sunset (fig. 2) is a successful mixture of various borrowings, with elements of the work of Puvis de Chavannes, whom Hébert had admired since his visits to the Hôtel de Ville and the Pantheon in Paris. Later, Hébert painted several canvases in rather sombre hues, which bring to mind the work of Kerr-Xavier Roussel, a great admirer of Cézanne. But Hébert had not yet come under the influence of Cézanne, whose work cannot have been easily accessible to him in Montreal.

There is reason to believe that Hébert became more familiar with Cézanne's work after February 1918. In 1914, he struck up a friendship with Fernand Préfontaine, who would found Le Nigog, a magazine of literary and artistic criticism, four years later. (3) Hébert designed the head and tail pieces for the magazine and regularly followed the meetings of its contributors.

One of these was Léo-Pol Morin, the pianist and musicologist, who welcomed the French painter Robert Mortier (1878-1940) and his wife Jane to Montreal in 1918. (4) Robert Mortier, a friend of Guillaume Apollinaire, was a great admirer of Cézanne and Matisse. He liked to discuss art and must have spoken to Hébert about his work. One thing is certain: Fernand Préfontaine invited Mortier to write a tribute to Cézanne for Le Nigog, and the article appeared in the April1918 issue. (5)

Barely four hundred words to pay tribute to Paul Cézanne in a magazine that was supposedly avant-garde may seem very little. But Mortier did say some fundamental things about an artist that had then been little written about in magazines. (6) Hébert was no doubt stirred by Mortier's contention that Cézanne "perceived objects as having solid integrity and weight." He may have been even more inspired to see the French artist writing of the poetics of form in Cézanne's work, which invited an exploration of the non-Western forms that Mortier himself had adopted. (7) If this was the case, then when could Adrien Hébert have seen Cézanne's paintings or even obtained reproductions of them? To our knowledge, he did not travel to Europe again until the summer of 1922. Hébert was clearly unable to satisfy his newfound curiosity for several years, and his work bears no apparent resemblance to Cézanne's until the summer of 1921, when he painted a number of canvases in the style of the French master. The small landscape L'Enclos, Ile Bélair (fig. 3), now in the National Gallery of Canada, and various other paintings finished that same year, cannot be fully understood unless we realize how much they owe to Cézanne.

How did Hébert become so influenced by the French master? The most plausible hypothesis would be that he began to look for articles on Cézanne, particularly ones that were illustrated. Yet, as we have already noted, (8) such articles were few and not easy to find in Montreal. The discovery at the Montreal Municipal Library of an almost complete collection of issues of the magazines L'Amour de l'Art from 1920 to 1924 helps solve the problem. These issues are all stamped with the monogram of Henri Hébert, Adrien's brother. (9) Henri Hébert subscribed to L'Amour de l'Art from its initial publication in May 1920 - perhaps at the suggestion of Fernand Préfontaine, who had stopped publishing Le Nigog in January 1919 and had returned to live in Paris, where his wife was studying at the École des Chartres. He often wrote to Henri during this period, sending him news of the Parisian art world.

The December 1920 issue of L'Amour de l'Art contained six illustrated articles on Cézanne and a colour plate reproduction of The Lake. Adrien Hébert undoubtedly read these keenly.
Next Page | Hébert's small landscape of Ile Bélair 

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