Cholera Plague, Quebec, c. 1832
oil on canvas
82.2 x 111.4 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 7157)
A devastating cholera epidemic swept through Quebec City in the summer of 1832, killing some 3,000 of its 20,000 inhabitants. This tragedy and other catastrophes - fires, landslides - that struck the port city during the period inspired Joseph Légaré, picturesque painter par excellence. Here, the cathedral and the houses lining Buade Street provide the backdrop for a scene set in the marketplace of the Upper Town, under a full moon. Sparing no detail, the artist has portrayed an anxious crowd, a cart loaded with corpses, a priest hurrying to the bedside of a dying victim. The theatricality of the image is heightened by the red glow of numerous fires. Légaré, a romantic painter influenced by the many British topographical artists who visited in the city, has captured the horror of the scourge, not to record it but to bear witness to its human impact.