Canadian Painting in the Thirties

Regionalist Manifestations in Quebec

The traditional rural life of Quebec played an important role in the concept of a French-Canadian identity; historians and writers have equated its preservation with the struggle against assimilation of the French in North America. Quebec artists also repeatedly returned to themes of rural life in constantly new interpretations.

Marc-Aurele Fortin painted the large elms in Quebec villages, hay wagons on country roads, and the flowing curves of old farmhouses, but in the early thirties he also painted a number of views in oil and watercolour of the Hochelaga district of Montreal, seen from his Notre Dame Street East apartment. In 1935 he spent some time in France and, upon his return, moved to Sainte-Rose, where he painted over a black undercoat, giving his work of this period an almost brutal quality. In the late thirties and all through the forties he painted in the lower Saint Lawrence area and in the Gaspé.

After being gassed while fighting during the First World War, André Biéler studied in the United States and later worked work with his uncle, the Swiss mural painter Ernest Biéler. Inspired by French regionalist literature, Biéler sought a region of Quebec where he could live and paint and in 1927 moved to the Île d'Orléans, where he remained for three years. The traditional lifestyles of the rural inhabitants determined the themes and character of André Biéler's work for the next decade.

Jean Paul Lemieux's interest in the folk arts of Quebec began at a fairly young age. Born in Quebec City, he first visited the Charlevoix area in 1921 and, in Montreal, illustrated several novels based on regionalist and historical themes. Wanting to relate his art to the social and political life of the people around him, Lemieux praised the mural work of Mexican and American artists for their social and educative role. In his own work he turned away from landscape in paintings of contemporary life, often with a satirical edge. 

Jori Smith and Stanley Cosgrove were also attracted to the Charlevoix area. Smith's passionate nature and deep humanitarian concern attracted her to the children of Charlevoix County whose portraits she painted.

Interested in the American and Mexican revival of mural painting, Cosgrove  travelled in 1939 to Mexico, where he was to study and paint for the next four years.

Chapter 6 - Regionalist Manifestations in Quebec
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