Josephte Ourné, c. 1840
oil on canvas
131.5 x 95.5 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 18309)
Nothing has so far been discovered about "Josephte Ourné", identified in an old inscription on the back of the canvas. As a consequence, the artistic qualities of this remarkable work take pride of place. In choosing to portray a young Aboriginal woman, described as a chief's daughter, Joseph Légaré was manifesting an interest in the First Nations that had first emerged in the literature of the time. Working in a large format, he presents his model in a standing, three-quarter view. The ample smock of vivid red makes the figure stand out against the dark, foliage-filled ground, endowing it with extraordinary presence. The trout and the bird held by the model confirm her youth, as only very young Aboriginal girls devoted their time to hunting and fishing. More than just a portrait, this is a vision full of hope.