Clarence Gagnon: The Maria Chapdelaine Illustrations
Hardcover, 120 pages
McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2020
Generations of Canadian readers have cherished Maria Chapdelaine, a coming-of-age story set in the Quebec countryside. Vivid illustrations by Clarence Gagnon helped make this book a classic.
Gagnon created fifty-four small paintings for the novel, which French author Louis Hermon wrote after a trip to Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean in 1912-13. To create the images, Gagnon followed a painstaking offset printing process that involved numerous preliminary studies and augmentation with pastel, coloured pencil and other drawing media. His perfectionism turned what could have been simple illustrations into authentic works of art that stand on their own. The final paintings are among Gagnon’s highest achievements.
Art historian and curator Ian M. Thom provides insight into Gagnon’s artistic methods and an appreciation of the paintings themselves. Excerpts from the novel accompany each artwork. The complete set of Gagnon’s Maria Chapdelaine painting, reproduced in these pages, resides in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and is considered a rare treasure.
Renowned for his winter landscapes of Quebec, Clarence Gagnon (Canadian, 1881–1942) studied under William Brymner at the Art Association of Montreal and under Jean-Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian in Paris. After his return to Quebec, he became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Gagnon later spent time in Paris, traveled throughout Europe, and illustrated a number of books, including Louis Hémon’s Maria Chapdelaine and L. F. Rouquette’s Le Grand Silence Blanc.