Sometimes works by artists cross our path early in life. Thus, two watercolors and a charcoal by Jean-Philippe Dallaire adorned the walls of my childhood home. One of them was given to me as an inheritance, the others fell to my sisters. Living alongside paintings creates an impression of intimacy with the creators. Believing to possess at home a fragment of their truth, one seeks others. The other day, rue Notre-Dame in Old Montreal, I ran to see theDallaire event at the René Gagnon gallery. With a sort of haste, like at a private date.
This painter born in Hull in 1916, follower of many styles, was above all a cubist in the crazy line of Pellan. Great Unicorn rooster (reproduced on a postage stamp) remains his emblematic work. Full of humor, fantasy, with a sharp line and a brush of gentleness, he is famous for his vivid colors, his independence, his poetry nourished by the fantastic, laughing and scathing. This Quebec artist lives through his paintings in national museums, adored by collectors, known and unknown to the general public.
He had landed for a while in Quebec, my hometown, teaching there at the École des beaux-arts. Dallaire, often broke, drank solid. My father, then a student, his apartment neighbor in the Latin Quarter, paid him a blow, soon reimbursed in cash: pitchers of beer for works of art. Who won in the exchange, do you believe?
There had not been any Dallaire exhibitions since 1999 at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, taken in light mode at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and I keep the magnificent catalog dedicated to the event. The biography of René Viau, Dallaire: the cyclops and the bird (Leméac, 2001) revealed more about humans. Those who love Dallaire know his youth in Hull, when the Dominican Georges-Henri Lévesque – one of the fathers of the Quiet Revolution who also supported the novelist Marie-Claire Blais – took him under his wing. His years in Quebec and Paris, his four-year imprisonment in a German camp in Saint-Denis during the last war are familiar to them. Not to mention his death in Vence in 1965, at age 49, from cirrhosis. He drank really a lot, this skinned one.
Cadet Rousselle’s cocked hat
At the René Gagnon gallery, on two floors, there are 70 original works, none of which have ever been exhibited, as well as unpublished plates of his work at the NFB, some for series devoted to Cartier and Champlain, more naturalistic, with islands, tall ships and crisscross canoes.
Dallaire had drawn in 1955 for the NFB the delicious filmstrip Félix Leclerc sings Cadet Rousselle, French refrain from the 18th centurye century sung by the cantor of The hymn to spring with hero in bicornuate hat and pointed nose, whose original portrait is on display in the gallery.
It is rare (it happens) that private galleries mount mini-retrospectives by charging an entrance fee, but these works deserve to find their walls as in a museum. THE’Dallaire event, which ends in Montreal on October 10, will then run to Quebec, at the Palais Montcalm, until mid-November.
The painter’s sons, Michel and François Dallaire, loaned paintings for the occasion, as did Brent McRoberts Dallaire, the artist’s grand-nephew, the screenwriter Luc Dionne, the Dominican fathers, the curator of the exhibition Marc Durand. , various individuals. Among the major works: The insane, spectacular with his knife, his smirk and his lost eyes, the proud Cadet Rousselle sure. I admired a skinny dog mourning his master on his grave, self-portraits, still lifes, a cat with shaggy hair on his chin, a cellist in the colors of autumn.
During my visit, Marc Durand and Brent McRoberts Dallaire were guiding us. Rarely have I seen people in love with their subject receive people with such enthusiasm. Their desire to showcase the artist’s career and talent turned into rains of anecdotes and details on the compositions. In large museums, contact with the public is necessarily more stilted. And then, we exchanged there between amateurs.
A painting lender arrived on site. In Hull, Dallaire had previously painted, against the bed and breakfast of innkeepers, the portrait of their little girl: the future mother of that lady. Dominicans came to find Father Georges-Henri Lévesque’s imprint on his early works. Everyone gave their little piece of history with this artist, often through generational transmission. When I left them, I dared one wish: that of seeing more uninitiated people meet there, in pure discovery of this magical world, a true treasure of all of Quebec!