Maurice Raymond, Sketches… Part one

Article[1] written by Rolland Boulanger, entitled: Maurice Raymond, Sketches… Part 1 (Maurice Raymond, esquisses… 1ère partie), in the magazine Arts et pensée, Vol. 1, no 4, (July 1951), p.102 to 104.

With the confusion we have today, both in people’s minds and in the various styles and “manners” found in contemporary works of art, personal expression in paintings has ended up being identified with an expression of anarchistic violence. In the eyes of many people, a painter has no personality if he is not a violent individual gone out of control and if his painting does not offer a spectacle of chaos and exasperation.

Yet there is only one thing we have a right to expect of an artist: that his paintings be a pure reflection of “his” personality, however moderate and discrete it may be. Some temperaments would in fact benefit from a little more discipline; somewhat like kids who are all at once intelligent, impulsive and mischievous and who need some serious drilling so that, by the age of twenty, they become something other than boorish and temperamental louts.

I cannot help but think of artists exuding both strength and restraint: Chardin, Georges de La Tour, Louis Le Nain, and so many other French artists of the best vintage, who were not denied recognition by this knowledgeable Twentieth Century; not only were these artists not demeaned, but they were praised at the same level as first-rate contemporary painters. The Modern Art Museum also did not reserve its premises strictly for anarchists, whose short lived though momentarily gaudy fame is already fading.

I am also reminded, as I now look closer to home, of Maurice Raymond who was nominated in 1945 by the likes of Marie-Alain Couturier and Fernand Léger – a rather significant event, as far as I am concerned – as one of the winners of the Quebec Grand Prix de Peinture. Another painter whose rare modesty and discrete personality and style belie the creative power and poetic significance of his works.

His name is rarely mentioned in the most vibrant circles of the Montreal art scene. However whenever it does come up in a conversation, it is always in glowing terms for Maurice Raymond. More often than not, it is to express regret at not seeing this painter more readily taking his share of the limelight. While this is regrettable, one would hardly care to chide Maurice Raymond too bitterly, though one might be somewhat annoyed at his lack of boldness…

His work may be absorbing as a professor at Montreal’s École des Beaux-Arts, this is true, but that is not the root cause – at least not the most important cause – of this… this isolationism: mostly this is due to a psychological complex stemming from circumstantial causes.

His students on St-Urbain Street relate to him with a feeling that could be described as serene veneration based on the sense that one is in the presence of an authentic, though “discrete” personality. This personality, endearing yet unfathomable to most – will it ever be otherwise? – still lets one sense the presence of a wealth of virtual treasures within its depths. Yet one must go back to it time and time again just to get an overall sense of what they are. It would be a major mistake to want to rush to any conclusion about the man. Maurice Raymond evokes an image of people with no history, yet with this difference that makes him all the more mysterious.

Indeed Maurice Raymond’s life has unfolded without any earth shattering external events: “My only regret, he says, is not to have realized, as a young man, that it was normal to break windows like anybody else.” Surely, Maurice Raymond’s childhood, youth and adolescence were among the most “educated”, serious and least spectacular.

His roots, heredity, primary education, cultural expansion and later contacts are all easily detected in his works and can be easily explained. What also transpires, while being less transparent, is a mysticism that is both religious and poetic. Above all, what his friends find most puzzling is the painter’s inhibition – those long unproductive periods. “I know, he would say even as he greeted me, I know the question you have been wanting to ask me for a long time… Of course my teaching duties are not the only explanation for the unproductive state in which you have seen me for the last several months. The real reason, the only one: I’m afraid, I can no longer bring myself to the decision to get out of my shell and display my feelings, on canvas, for all to see. This is due, above all, to what I would call a distant educational phenomenon.” What kind of educational phenomenon?

Raymond, as we know, is a painter who carries the land within his blood; circumstances have also conspired to nurture within him the full blossoming of this allegiance to the land and the simple ways of the rural context. His grandfather was a farmer; his father was a man who was deeply aware of the local strands of the Canadian saga, and was also a founding member of the Société de Généalogie (Genealogical Society). That no doubt partly explains, through heredity and family education, the connection Maurice Raymond has always maintained with the history and rural traditions of Quebec. Being well versed himself in the history of our roots, his love of the land expanded all the more and his abundant illustrative works along rural themes is ample proof of this. What could be more natural than for him to end up collaborating with Paul Gouin as an illustrator in his journal “La Nation”, or subsequently working for the Travel Bureau? This part of his work is self-explanatory in terms of its subjects: however this could not in and of itself account for the part decorative, part poetic character of his interpretation.

(To be continued)[2]

Rolland Boulanger

[1] The article shows two reproductions of works by Maurice Raymond : Nature morte aux citrons (the artist’s private collection) and Poème de la terre, part of the collection at the Musée de la Province. This large synthetic decorative work on rural poetry – this approach – one of the artist’s first – links this work, at this time, with that of Maurice Denis : flat washed tones, bold perspective.

[2] I am obliged, due to the abundant nature of the subject, to refer the reader to the next issue for the continuation of this article. – R.B.

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