Photo: National Assembly of Quebec Fund, photographer Francesco Bellomo The center of Charles Huot's “I remember” canvas is occupied by the allegorical figure of Quebec represented in the guise of a woman with black.
Le Devoir goes beyond the framework of the National Assembly in this series that revisits the highlights of our political history. Today, I remember Charles Huot.
Quebec City, December 18, 1920. Painter Charles Huot takes a break at the top of the scaffolding installed on the floor of the Salon Vert. He massages his numb arm before taking up the long-handled paintbrush allowing him to touch up his canvas fixed to the ceiling with the help of fish-based glue. Time is running out for the sixty-something artist, who must complete the work before the deputies return to the House. Premier Taschereau's patience has its limits!
The work that we are about to unveil is an allegory of the motto I remember, which was engraved in the stone of the Quebec Parliament Building by its architect, Eugène-Étienne Taché. It presents a panorama of the “great men” of the history of Quebec deployed on the celestial vault. “Clouds are a usual artifice, because the ceiling invites you to see the sky,” explains art historian Robert Derome. The ethereal composition is reminiscent of The Apotheosis of Christopher Columbus, which Napoleon Bourassa intended for this same parliament.
Photo: University of Ottawa, Charles Huot Fund The painter Charles Huot perched on his scaffolding at the beginning of the 20th century, during the production of his painting “I remember”.
Charles Huot took six years to complete this titanic work, 18 meters long and 7 meters wide. The canvas, which can still be seen at the top of the old green Salon, which has become blue, also bears the marks of pieces added here and there by the dissatisfied artist. “It's a huge puzzle,” observes Derome. The sections where there are a lot of characters are the most fragmented. »
The center of the composition is occupied by the allegorical figure of Quebec (1) represented as a woman with black hair. The Quebec Marianne dressed in a Greco-Roman toga brandishes a laurel wreath with one hand while the other is placed on a shield bearing the coat of arms of 1868. This triumphant posture is at odds with the first version of the work. , on which the Quebecer was immersed in a dream. It was at Taschereau's request that the woman got up from her stone armchair sculpted on Cap Diamant.
This late modification was instrumentalized from the session of February 1, 1921 during a speech by the secretary of the province, Athanase David. “Post-war Quebec is no longer the same,” exclaims this influential member of the Liberal government, pointing to the ceiling. The pensive young woman has tamed her worries and she asserts her intense desire to give the full value of her power. She is no longer seated, because she knows that any people who rest expose themselves to being outstripped in the struggle which begins on the economic field! »
Photo: National Assembly of Quebec Fund, photographer Francesco Bellomo “I remember” by Charles Huot
The Quebecer is ready to fight, standing tall alongside the allegories of Agriculture, Commerce, Equity and Justice. This shock squad is accompanied by Abundance (2) which empties its horn from the top of its cloud. Didn't the Quebec of 1921 just catch up with Ontario?
The future of Quebec is assured by pulp, asbestos and electrical energy, adds Athanase David. “Our wealth is such that we sometimes wonder what we don't have! The land, however, must remain the bedrock of Quebec's economy, he says: “Our province is an agricultural province and must remain so!” »
The apotheosis of Quebec in the style of Charles Huot began in 1534 with the arrival of Jacques Cartier's ships in Gaspé Bay (3). The French explorer wasted no time in taking possession of a cloud through a cross at the foot of which prostrates an anonymous Native (4).
This first cumulus led at the execution stake of a Jesuit missionary (5) burning for eternity. It may be Jean de Brébeuf, whom the Iroquois of Lake Ontario baptized with boiling water before letting him die slowly in 1649. The identity of this martyr of the faith remains to be established, the painter who has not given the keys to his pantheon.
Turbulence multiplied as the British Conquest approached, which French soldiers led by General François-Gaston de Lévis (6) tried to prevent. Montcalm's successor is easily recognizable by the tricorn he would have planted on his sword at the Battle of Sainte-Foy in 1760.
The design was refined with the advent of parliamentarism at the end of the 18th century . The silhouette of Louis-Joseph Papineau (7) stands out from a cluster of deputies alongside his comrade Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine (8) with whom the tribune will fall out after the patriot rebellions of 1837.
By jumping from one cloud to another, we reach the Canada of 1867 represented by its prime minister, John A. Macdonald (9). The hated politician held responsible for the Indian residential school system has been watching over the debates of the Quebec nation for more than a century.
A cloud passes. It is that of the arts, with on board the poet Octave Crémazie (10) and the architect Eugène-Étienne Taché (11). The first quietly plays the lyre while the second presents a sketch of his parliament. The two men parade slowly at low altitude while a gust carries Quebec Premier Honoré Mercier (12) and his federal counterpart, Wilfrid Laurier (13), to the left end of the canvas.
The sky darkens with the arrival of a surprisingly gray cloud loaded with priests. The presence of Cardinal Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau (14) in its center recalls the hold of the Catholic religion on the Quebec state barely a century ago. His Eminence is also the uncle of Prime Minister Taschereau, who had crucifixes hung in all the courthouses at the end of the 1920s. Maurice Duplessis completed the operation by planting his in the Salon Vert in 1936.< /p>
In his 1921 House Speech, Athanase David could not help but note the “stiffness” of the folds of the robe of the Allegorical Quebec and the “exaggerated” vigor of his arm. The limits of the composition will also be raised the following year by the painter Ozias Leduc: “The drawing is loose and all these characters plateau with more or less together.
Robert Derome recognizes today that he did not always appreciate Charles Huot's “peplum” at its fair value. “The work has so many elements that it is not easy to see and understand,” he argues, observing the clouds of this unknown legacy of the artist who has become de facto the painter of the Quebec Parliament.