OUR FORGOTTEN PAINTERS
Québec is and has always been fertile ground for art and artists. The grandiose the grandiose landscapes discovered by the first Europeans arriving in New France inspired countless amateur and professional artists who sought to express the beauty and poetry of the breathtaking panoramas hidden by every turn of the river, every valley, every mountain.
Think of Charlevoix, which remains a haven of creation even today or of Beaver Hall Hill; some places have become just as symbolic as Barbizon or the Fontainebleau Forest in France.
Just like these mythical places, there is Montée Saint-Michel (which became Papineau Street) and, from the Avenue Mont-Royal, led to this other road now called Boulevard Crémazie, was sought for its woods and its country settings. The Montée Saint-Michel has attracted many Montreal artists.
According to Alfred Laliberté (perhaps our greatest sculptor) it is the love of painting and friendship that brought together the painters of Montée Saint-Michel. Those painters who did not necessarily have common aesthetic concerns had all frequented the National Monument. They made L’Arche (22, rue Notre-Dame), their workshop located in an attic formerly inhabited by Émile Vézina and which had already housed the group of Casoars, their favorite meeting place.
One of these, which will mark his time, is Narcisse Poirier. The latter, reluctant to adopt the theories of modern art, chose, from the beginning of his career, a more poetic, lyrical and, let us say, classic approach to his work.
His conception of painting is expressed in these terms: “I have always worked from nature while making poetry with nature … I did not want to stick to photography, nor do I Impressionism. I have always had the desire to perpetuate the Quebec of yesteryear in my paintings. “
Born in 1883 in Saint-Félix-de-Valois, he demonstrated a skill and talent from an early age. At sixteen, he enrolled at the Monument National in Montreal, where he studied with Edmond Dyonnet, Joseph St. Charles, Alfred Laliberté, Henri Hébert and Elzéar Soucy. In 1920, he perfected his art at the Académie Julian in Paris with his friend the painter Rodolphe Duguay. He soon went to Italy, then to England.
His own career began on his return home when the Government of Quebec bought, in 1922, one of his paintings.
Subsequently, starting in 1932, he exhibited for twenty-five years at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, created religious art in churches – there are some of his paintings in the churches of Saint-Félix-de -Valois, Saint-Eustache, Notre-Dame-du-Très-Saint-Sacrement (Montreal) and Rivière-du-Loup – and will be among those who will define figurative art for much of the twentieth century. In fact, Poirier is an integral part of our heritage and especially for art made here since the first half of the 19th century.
A CHANGING ART WORLD
It was in the 1940s that culture really began to make an impact on the general population. Visual arts education in Quebec was very recent. An art school was created at the Art Association of Montreal, followed by l’École du Meuble in 1935. The late 1930s are also marked by art classes given in some colleges like Brébeuf and Notre-Dame de Montreal.
In 1942, the Montreal Institute of Graphic Arts is founded. The teaching given in these institutions, however, was already being contested by the beginning of the World War II. It is said to be too academic, outdated and crushed by tradition.
Faced with this state of affairs, Quebec witnesses the emergence of a modernist movement that will be represented by Alfred Pellan and, above all, Paul-Émile Borduas and the Automatistes.
Fiercely at war against conservatism that prevailed everywhere in Quebec and, in this case, the world of art, Pellan and Borduas – diametrically opposed in their approach but brothers in battle – started a movement that would upset the world of art and, until the late 1980s, profoundly marked and influenced the attitude of critics and art lovers in Quebec.
In this atmosphere of renewal and rebellion, a conservative painter like Narcisse Poirier will struggle to retain its relevance and will, for many, be relegated to a relatively minor rank in the world and the art market.
This being said, there remains a hard core of art lovers for whom fashions and movements hold very little interest. It is this hard core that would allow Narcisse Poirier to enjoy, throughout the second half of the twentieth-century, a career and a reputation quite enviable and respectable.
Poirier painted until the end of his life in 1984. For several years, after his death, the demand for the painter’s work remained constant and the value of his works increased steadily.
Beginning in the twenty-first century, this trend began to slow with the aging of the population and the erosion of the pool of admirers of the old master. The prices obtained by the different auction houses got to be a little disappointing and it was often more difficult to sell the works offered.
In this context, the purchase of paintings by Narcisse Poirier can become particularly interesting for anyone who admires his work. Indeed, many bargains are possible and, if we rely on the past, it is difficult to predict where the market will be in a few years.
If a revival of interest in classical painting were to appear, the value of a painter of Poirier’s caliber could rise quickly and a painting obtained at a lower cost could be of considerable value.
This being said, and as we always say, the first reason that should lead to purchasing a painting should be a matter of the heart. Poirier was able to express all the poetry of Quebec with accuracy and sensitivity and it should be reason enough to love him and hang one or more of his paintings on our walls.
S.M.Pearson,Le Balcon d’art, March 2019