When In Quebec City . . .
On a recent visit to Quebec City, Sarah and I visited the Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec. This is Quebec’s premier art gallery showcasing Quebec’s best known and loved artists.
The exhibitions of work by the illustrator Edmond-Joseph Massicotte, and painter Jean Paul Lemieux were thoroughly satisfying. Both were artists I knew absolutely nothing about. Massicotte illustrated periodicals and magazines and even some children’s books around the turn of the 20th century. The gallery presents samples of his work from rough sketches in his notepads, to the actual magazine covers he worked on, as well as prints of his larger, more complex and personal work.
The exhibition of Jean Paul Lemieux’s work was equally enjoyable. He is a painter of the modern style (whatever that is), painting from the mid-to late 20th century. He passed away in Quebec City in 1990. He liked to paint from memory and his paintings possess a strange, haunting quality. They are expressionistic, at times bordering on the abstract, although you always know exactly what is being portrayed. His winter landscapes are full of regret and loneliness, wide expanses of snow covered lakes, painted on large canvasses. Images on a computer screen do not do them justice.
One of his paintings, which, I believe is entitled Golden Anniversary, depicts an elderly couple, sitting on a bench at their wedding anniversary party. The couple’s expressions appear muted, much like those in an old photograph where smiling was discouraged because you had to wait minutes for the exposure. This painting best captures the duality of Lemieux’s work (from what little I’ve seen); one could either view the work as a sad depiction of old age, or, if you’re like me, you could see it as a cheeky and humourous comment on Quebec society. Both interpretations, I think, are valid. I couldn’t find an image of this work online, but here is another image that typifies Lemieux’s work: Strong, but reserved use of colour, and simple subject matter that is given such powerful treatment that it takes on new meanings the more one examines it.
Other exhibitions on offer were a retrospective of Clarence Gagnon, a painter whose work I recognized, but had no idea who the man was. As you can see by these few examples, he painted in the impressionistic style, bordering on the expressionistic, and the influences of Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh are obvious.
His work is mostly of Quebec landscapes, and in particular, winter landscapes, he loved winter landscapes, how typically Canadian. The exhibit provided a good overview of his work, from his early days learning his craft in Europe, to his later works. The gallery also includes a number of his sketches, which are highly detailed, and just as fascinating as his paintings. Some pretty amazing stuff.
The gallery also includes a permanent exhibit of Inuit sculpture, and a section on the history of Quebec art, which, though interesting, seemed a bit small and incomplete – no Kreighoffs!
There were also some displays of abstract art,
which, if you’re partial to that sort of thing, then I suppose you’ll enjoy it. If you’re not, give it a quick walk-through just to say you saw it, then move on to the good stuff.
The building itself is quite interesting. The gallery proper is all neoclassical splendour, with marble and columns acting as entry points into exhibitions, while a modern entrance section links the gallery to the old Quebec City prison, built in 1867 and annexed by the gallery in the late 1980s. With some more permanent exhibitions and a bit more to see and do, the gallery could become something great. As it is, one can comfortably tour the entire building in a couple of hours. A nice place to visit if you’re stuck for something to do in Quebec’s beautiful city, or if it’s really hot, cause yes, the place has air conditioning. A bientot. llewopemearg