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OZIAS LEDUC, R.C.A. (1864-1955)

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Born at St. Hilaire, Quebec, he began to paint with Luigi Cappello in the decoration of Saint-Paul l"Ermite church. Cappello was an Italian painter who had done church decoration for many churches in Quebec. Later Leduc became associated with Adolphe Rho in the decoration of the church of Yamachiche, including the painting of a copy of Raphael’s "Transfiguration" and, a picture entitled "Baptême du Christ" destined for the church of Saint-Jean-in-Montana, Jerusalem. Although this last painting was done by Leduc it was a commission given to Rho and done in his shops and therefore signed by Rho. An engraving after this painting was made but was not a faithful reproduction of the original work. Most of Leduc’s art training was acquired through the process of observation and self teaching. By the age of twenty-three Leduc was producing beautiful still life studies bathed in warm candle light or from the light of a distant window. A painting from this period entitled "Les Trois Pommes" was given to Paul-Emile Borduas by the artist as Borduas was his assistant for many years in the decoration of churches and a life long friend. Now the property of Mme Borduas the painting was reproduced in J. Russel Harper’s Painting in Canada/A History. In 1892 Leduc entered a painting in the Art Association of Montreal annual show and won a prize for the best work done by an artist under thirty. It was during this year and the next that he did decorations for the Joliette Cathedral. In 1897 he sailed for France in the company of Suzor-Côté. There Leduc became considerably impressed with three lessor known Impressionists, René Ménard, Alfons Mucha and Le Sidaner also Maurice Denis in religious art especially. He returned to Canada after eight months and set to work on decorations for the church at St. Hilaire. Noting the effect of the Impressionists on Leduc’s work, Jean René Ostiguy explained, "But the techniques of French impressionism, when transplanted to Saint-Hilaire, bore a very different fruit. For Leduc they were the means of weaving reveries and for expressing the tenderness which he felt before all life and all created things. His drawing, the care he devoted to his surfaces, show his early influences. But the real difference came in the handling of light. For him light was the symbol of another, an ideal world. He saw nature in the light of his dreams, and there is good reason for associating him with the surrealist tendency which is sometimes to be found in Renaissance painting. Because his development took this unusual course, Leduc’s paintings are not modern in the ordinary sense. Yet in a deeper sense they are completely contemporary in spirit. His insistence on the poetic basis of art and his strongly personal manner of expression are qualities which contemporary painters revere and seek as essential elements in their work." Also commenting on the artist Gilles Corbeil noted, "The extraordinary care which Ozias Leduc lavished on his paintings is almost unbelievable. He seems at every moment to have been conscious of some moral responsibility for the way he treated his canvases and handled his brush and his colours. Nothing was left undone; no care was too great. Everything which went into the making of a picture, from the preparation of the stretcher for the canvas, was the work of his own hands. One begins to wonder what brush could have been soft enough, what palette smooth enough, to have been employed in the creation of such exquisite paintings. But the really touching thing about Leduc is the tenderness, even sanctity, which seems to govern all his work. For him painting was never merely a manual craft but a flowering of character, an act of grace. For him the paint itself seemed sensitive, and perhaps it was for fear of violating it that he treated it with such gentleness." Corbeil went on to explain that throughout his life Leduc painted only some twenty still life studies of simple everyday things such as a candlestick, a loaf of bread, apples, a book, violin, a knife or spoon beside a bowl but he never painted flowers in these studies. Corbeil equated Leduc’s treatment of objects with that of Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) the French master who also endowed his still lifes with a certain dignity although Chardin was a more worldly and sophisticated painter. Corbeil thought too, that the enchanted austerity of Leduc’s paintings might be better compared to the Dutch still life painter Willem Claesz Heda (1594-1682). Heda however, unlike Leduc included flowers in his compositions but he achieved that aura of silence that Leduc always created in his still lifes. During the earlier part of his life Leduc did a number of portraits as well as landscapes. He made his living mainly from church decorations of which he did more than one hundred and fifty paintings for about twenty-eight cathedrals, churches, or chapels. A few of his portraits include: Madame Lebrun (dated 1916);
self portrait (1899); Marie-Madeleine Repentante (1901); his mother; Guy Delahaye (1912); Madame Labonté (1944); Robert Rocquebrune (undated charcoal) and many others. The portraits and other works were done with oil on paper, oil on cardboard, oil on canvas. He did a surprising number of oil on cardboard paintings. He kept track of his pencil drawings which were at times done on the back of envelopes and sometimes numbered. In 1916 he was elected Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy and in 1938, received the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Montreal. He illustrated the following books: Claude Paysan by Ernest Choquette (novel published 1898, Montreal); Mignonne, allons voir si la rose by Guy Delahaye (Guillaume Lahaise) (a poet’s answer to his critics, and parodied romantic verse published 1912); LA Campagne canadienne: croquis et leçons by Adelard Dugre (published 1927); Contes vrais by Pamphile Lemay (folklore and accounts of peasant life, published 1899); and Le Père Buteux by Abbé Tessier. Leduc’s church decorations in Quebec included: mural of Saint Charles Borromée (15 ft x 11 ft) dated 1891, after the engraving by C. Lebrun for the church at Lachenaie; large painting of Christ descended from the cross (8 ft x 4 ft 6 in.) dated 1891, after an original work by Ary Schaeffer for Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, Verdun; painting of the Martyrdom of Saint Julie (12 ft x 5 ft x 6 in.) c. 1903 for the church Sainte-Julie at Chambly; portrait of Father Rodrique Desnoyers, dated 1906, taken from a photograph in the Seminary of Saint-Hyacinthe; several paintings in the church of Saint-Enfant-Jesus, Montreal; a painting of the Exaltation of the Cross in the chapel of the convent at Saint-Hilaire; a painting of Christ Calming the Tempest in Joliette Cathedral; The Angels Carrying the Tablets of the Law, for the Cathedral at Antigonish; a painting of the Crowning of the Virgin and the Stigmata of Saint Francis of Assisi, a decoration, for the church at Farnham; and other works at the following churches and cathedrals: Saint-Anges, Lachine; church at Saint-Genevieve; church at l’Ile Bizard; Notre-Dame, Montreal; Bishop’s Palace, Sherbrooke; church at Pierrefonds; church of Saint-Hilaire, Rouville and elsewhere. Nineteen of these were destroyed in the fire at the church of Rougement in 1930. There have been three important showings of Leduc’s work as follows: at the St. Suplice Library, Montreal in 1916; a retrospective exhibition at the Lycée Pierre Corneille, Montreal in 1954 and a retrospective exhibition organized by Jean René Ostiguy for the National Gallery of Canada which included forty-one oil, charcoal, and coloured crayon drawings and paintings. Leduc was still active at the age of ninety, overseeing the work for the decoration of the church at Almaville-en-Bas near Shawinigan Falls. He died at St. Hyacinthe aged ninety-one. Collectors of his works include: Père Wilfrid Corbeil, C.S.V. (Joliette, PQ.); M. Jacques Auger (Montreal); M. Paul Gouin (Montreal); Mlle Gabrielle Messier (St. Hilaire, P.Q.); M. Luc Choquette (Montreal); M. Gerard Lortie (Montreal); M. Edouard Clerk (St. Hilaire); M. Jean Désy (Paris); M. Gilles Corbeil (Montreal); Dr. Guy Lahaise (Montreal); M. L.-J. Barcelo (Montreal); Mgr. Olivier Maurault, P.D. (Montreal); Mgr. Albert Tessier, P.D. (Montreal); Dr. Jules Brahy (Montreal); Abbé Filion (Montreal); M. Pierre de Ligny Boudreau (Paris); M. René Bergeron (Chicoutimi); and other private collectors of his works. He is represented in the following public collections: Museum of the Province of Quebec; The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; and the National Gallery of Canada by landscapes "Neige Dorée (54" x 30"); a still life "Le Repas du Colon" (14" x 18") which was beautifully reproduced on the back cover of Vie Des Arts, Winter, 1967; A close up study of part of an apple tree "Pommes Vertes" (24 1/2" x 36 1/2"); a head and shoulders study of "Endymion et Séléné" (9 1/4" x 10 3/4") two characters of Green mythology, Séléné" (Moon Goddess) and Endymion (a beautiful youth).

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald,
Canadian Paperbacks, Ottawa, 1971.
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