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Maria Chapdelaine
Illustrations by Clarence Gagnon

December 18, 2010 to February 27, 2011

As its title conveys, this exhibition is comprised of Clarence Gagnon’s original artwork for his illustration of Louis Hémon’s classic Canadian novel, Maria Chapdelaine, which was commissioned by Editions Mornay in 1928 and published in 1933. Clarence Gagnon’s exquisite miniatures, all fifty-four executed in mixed media on paper, were of a different order to those that had preceded them, including the novel’s first illustrations created by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté in 1916 for J.A. Lefebvre. Greater in number, in colour rather than in black-and-white, Gagnon’s work set a new standard for book illustration.

Unlike Suzor-Côté’s earlier illustrations in which the landscape plays a relatively minor role, Gagnon’s work gives form to the Quebec landscape and generally avoids images of individuals—even Maria herself remaining rather ambiguous. This difference in approach can perhaps be explained by the fact that Suzor-Côté was working for a Québecois audience that knew at least a little of the nature of the landscape. Gagnon, by contrast, was working for an audience that would have been quite unfamiliar with the wilderness and the often forbidding, Quebec landscape.

Clarence Gagnon’s original works have a jewel-like quality that effectively captures the spirit and mood of the Quebec landscape. The lack of specificity in his portrayal of the book’s characters allows the imagination free range inviting the viewer to visit and revisit each scene.

About the Story of Maria

View images from Maria Chapdelaine

My purpose in illustrating Maria Chapdelaine was to catch the spirit of Canada and the French-Canadian way of life which the book immortalizes. That book represents the struggle of a brave little minority and reveals the true pioneering instinct of those early settlers.—Clarence Gagnon


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Maria Chapdelaine, Haying

Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942
Haying, 1928-1933
mixed media on paper
19 x 20.4 cm
Gift of Col. R.S. McLaughlin
McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Burning Stumps by Clarence Gagnon

Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942
Burning Stumps, 1928-1933
mixed media on paper
25.7 cm x 25.6 cm
Gift of Col. R.S. McLaughlin
McMichael Canadian Art Collection

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