Artwork by Clarence Alphonse Gagnon,  The Doctor

Clarence Gagnon
The Doctor

drawing and gouache
signed, titled “Etude pour Maria Chapdelaine”, inscribed “page 170” and certified by Lucile Rodier Gagnon (no. 794) on a label on the reverse
7.25 x 8.75 ins ( 18.4 x 22.2 cms ) ( sight )

Auction Estimate: $12,000.00$8,000.00 - $12,000.00

Price Realized $8,260.00
Sale date: May 29th 2018

Masters Gallery, Calgary
Private Collection, Calgary
“Restaurant Exhibition”, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1959
Louis Hemon (Illustrations by Clarence Gagnon), Maria Chapdelaine, Paris, 1933, page 170 for the canvas of this subject
Ian M. Thom, Maria Chapdelaine: Illustrations, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, 1987, pages 24-28
Despite his vow to evade book illustration projects, in 1928 Clarence Gagnon was easily persuaded to take on the 1933 Mornay edition of “Maria Chapdelaine”. A romance novel published in 1914 by French writer Louis Hémon who was residing in Quebec at the time, “Maria Chapdelaine” was aimed at French and Quebec adolescents. The novel achieved great success, and has been extensively analyzed, adapted and translated throughout the decades. The story has caught the imagination of many artists, especially from Quebec, as well as commercial illustrators, all of whom were pleased to illustrate the landscape and traditional life of rural Quebec. Mornay Publications offered Gagnon the project and agreed to all of the artist’s strict demands on the book’s production.

Gagnon laboured over three years on these illustrations, devoting great care to each image. The preparatory drawing and gouache The Doctor serves as a study for the final illustration, which was entitled “The Diagnosis”, in the Mornay edition of the novel. The final image appears to be nearly identical to the “The Doctor”; Gagnon renders the same minute details of the interior in both versions. Ian Thom writes that “Gagnon avoids portraying individual faces, often showing figures from behind or rendering the features by a few simple lines. In effect, the text is left to speak for the characters.” This statement holds true in the case of this work, as the doctor’s face is the only one out of the four figures that is depicted in detail. Gagnon created forty-two images to accompany the “Maria Chapdelaine” story. On the detail, quality and influence of Gagnon’s illustrations, Thom declared “Greater in number, and in colour rather than black and white and of a different character, the illustrations set a new standard for book illustration.”

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Clarence Alphonse Gagnon
(1881 - 1942) RCA

Clarence Gagnon was born in Montreal, Quebec, his father of French origin and his mother of English. The Gagnon family moved to St. Rose where they lived for ten years, then returned to Montreal where Clarence received a commercial education at the Ecole du Plateau and artistic training at the Art Association of Montreal under William Brymner from 1897-1900. In the summer of 1899 he spent some time in Lower Quebec where he did paintings that won him prize money from the Art Association of Montreal. After two years at the Association he worked for William Maxwell, R.C.A., prominent architect and spent his summers at St. Joachim. At Maxwell’s home in 1902, Gagnon made his first drypoint etching no bigger than a visting card. Gagnon probably studied the engravings of Rembrandt as he once told Robert Pilot about the time he and another artist secured the loan of six small etched copper plates by the Dutch master with which they made several copies of each.

In 1903, the generosity of art patron James Morgan allowed him to go to Paris and study in the studio of painter Jean-Paul Laurens. Gagnon distinguished himself early in his career by the quality of his engravings and won a gold medal at the St. Louis Exhibition in 1904 and an honourable mention the following year at the Salon des Artistes Francais in Paris. Two of his etchings were reproduced in Paul Duval’s book “Canadian Drawings and Prints”. Many of these etchings were of scenes in Venice, Normandy and Brittany.

Returning to Canada in 1909, he divided his time between Montreal and Baie-St-Paul. There in Charlevoix County, he painted scenes of habitant life and was soon a familiar figure in the community. He had a genuine love of the country and could detect the slightest change in some areas where he spent many hours. He became a member of the Royal Society of Canada and later he was elected associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

He felt compelled to return to France in 1917 and, while in Paris, continued to paint canvases based on his earlier sketches of Quebec villages. His occasional winter visits to Norway refreshed his memories of snow and the northern atmosphere. He returned to Canada to marry two years later, remaining until 1924. During this period, he sketched with A.Y. Jackson and Edwin Holgate at Baie Ste Paul. He received the Trevor Prize of the Salmagundi Club of New York. He illustrated “Le Grand Silence Blanc” (1929) and the deluxe edition of Louis Hemon's “Maria Chapdelaine” (1933). Upon his return from a second stay in France from 1922-36, the University de Montreal awarded him an honorary doctorate.

He died in Montreal at the age of 61. A memorial exhibition of his work was organized by the National Gallery of Canada which included paintings from the permanent collections of the National Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Sources: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977