Painter, draughtsman, engraver, and illustrator, Clarence Alphonse Gagnon was born in Montreal November 8, 1881. From 1897 to 1900, he studied drawing and painting under William Brymner at the Art Association of Montreal. In 1904, Clarence Gagnon left for Paris to work in the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens at the Julian Academy. He 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 at the Salon des artistes français in Paris in 1905. From 1909 to 1914 Gagnon moved between Canada, France, and Norway, always working up the sketches he had made in Quebec.
Clarence Gagnon became a member of the Royal Society of Canada and in 1910, he became an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and a full member in 1922. In 1923, he received the Trevor Prize of the Salmagundi Club of New York. Between 1924 and 1936, Gagnon spent time in Paris and traveled throughout Europe. It was during this period that he illustrated a number of books, including Rouquette’s Le grand silence blanc (1929) and the deluxe edition of Louis Hémon’s Maria Chapdelaine (1933), a story that celebrated Canadian frontier life. Upon his return to Quebec in 1936, the Université de Montréal awarded him an honorary doctorate.
Clarence Gagnon died in Montreal January 5, 1942. He was sixty-one years old.