Sister Saint-Alphonse, 1841
oil on canvas
90.6 x 72 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 4297)
Prior to 1830, the aim of Quebec portraitists was primarily to honour the social status of their models. Antoine Plamondon was an exception, for true to his Paris training he strove to capture something of their personality. "Sister Saint-Alphonse" is the product of a decade of intense artistic exploration. Plamondon has employed various techniques to ensure that the young woman's character radiates from the canvas. The composition, which forms an isosceles triangle, is lit from a spot behind the seated nun in a way that structures the space and creates a sense of depth. Skilfully manipulating a carefully chosen and expertly applied palette of restrained colours and halftones, the artist has obtained maximal effect from minimal means. The contrast between the falling folds of the ample black veil and the immaculately starched wimple successfully concentrates attention on the face, whose penetrating gaze hints at an intense inner life.