Maurice Raymond, Sketches… Part two

Article[1] written by Rolland Boulanger, entitled: Maurice Raymond, Sketches… Part 2 (Maurice Raymond, esquisses… 2ème partie), in the magazine Arts et pensée, Vol. 1, no 5, (September 1951), p.140 to 144.

This article on Maurice Raymond is a follow up to the preamble to a short study on him that I was hoping to publish in its entirety in the last issue of this magazine. Due to totally unpredictable circumstances, I have been obliged to postpone the following article until today. I hope both the artist and the reader will forgive this procedure dictated by circumstances. R.B.

There is no doubt that Maurice Raymond was and remains to this day an artist of a dreaming and meditative nature; yet here again, he was amply served by circumstances. His poetic landscape artist’s sensitivity stems first of all from his extended contact with nature. Back when he was eight or nine years old, when his grandfather was still alive, he would spend his yearly vacations partly on the latter’s farm in Roxton Falls, partly in Ottawa, and would spend a major portion of his time either working in the fields or escaping to some lovingly courted solitude.

But it was mostly in Ottawa, where he was immersed with much older relatives for eight consecutive years, that he must have developed the serious, meditative spirit that makes him so unique. These were cloistered holidays, to say the least, if ever there was any such thing! Then he would return home to yet another serious intellectual environment, a father immersed in books of a resolutely austere nature in the eyes of an adolescent.

Study both at home and away from home; and eventually studies at the École des Beaux-Arts. I am well acquainted with one of his brothers, now a Jesuit priest, as he was one of my former classmates. I cannot think of one without imagining the serious and methodical mindset with which the other must have gone through what is commonly referred to, with perhaps a grain of salt, “the most wonderful years in a young man’s life.” I cannot imagine, having known his brother so well, that Maurice Raymond was anything but brilliant in every respect. And if my information is accurate, besides being a rabid intellectual, his Dad had an unmistakable talent for painting.

In a word, Maurice Raymond, well prepared in every respect, was a hard working student at the École des Beaux-Arts, and a graduate whom the Director of studies, Mr. Maillard, must have held in especially high regard. According to Raymond, “It is always difficult to be fair towards a school; most often, the opposite occurs as an individual’s experience grows in a life where the parameters change without our realizing it.” And Raymond immediately adds: “Among my teachers, I had Mr. Maillard, who taught me to look at art as nature seen through one’s temperament. I believed that at first. But later on I learned – I don’t know where or when – that art was something more than that, or different, in that the EVENT had to come first of all from within the personality, and thus uniformity no longer matters.

Maurice Raymond had become a man, both mentally and physically, and a scholarship would finally allow him to keep a solitary appointment with himself, for an entire year. So he found himself in New York, Boston, and then Chicago and Philadelphia. He did not confine himself to visiting museums and workshops, but learned to assess other men, and new communities whose occupations and “strange” derivatives enriched him psychologically. Yet at the same time, for a thoughtful mind such as Maurice Raymond’s, it was a year well spent getting to know himself, i.e. becoming more aware of his personality.

This did not prevent Maurice Raymond from painting in the meantime, even though his trip to the United States was primarily meant as a journey of observation. Going through the local libraries, he gained a theoretical knowledge of everything he could thus learn about the science of color and composition; personal studies that would one day be so useful to him! Yet he painted… Nearly two Christmases ago, my wife and I were admiring a charming study by Raymond. In fact we were able to enjoy it for some ten days, each time we sat at the same table in the dining room at the St. Adele Lodge. This study was hung on the wall just above our table, and portrayed a chair left on its own in a corner of a room. It reminded me of another study by Van Gogh where, on a day of profound boredom, the latter had painted a chair in his room from where he could hear the cicadas of Arles.

“This chair, Raymond told me, I am pleased that you saw it; it goes back to my stay in Philadelphia. It was one of the chairs in one of the corners of my hotel room; but I can’t really say that I had time to be bored. In this way I tried, from time to time, to prove to myself that my theoretical gains on the subject of color were not a total waste of time.” Though the solitude of this chair is eloquent in its own way, it does not yet allow us to fully glimpse the future of this young painter who has since considerably whittled down his art. If we compare Raymond’s treatment of this chair in 1941 to his present work, it is somewhat like Matisse’s “Desserte”, painted in 1897, compared to his rendition of it in 1909. Of course no comparison is without flaws. Nevertheless, this colorful chair is said to have served as an inspiration for one of Louis Parent’s beautiful ceramics.

We know that soon after his return to Montreal, Raymond, along with Cosgrove, took on the decoration of the cupola in the church of St-Henri; this was a pleasant job, as the wonderful priest was wise enough to grant the artists the latitude to express themselves freely. If the diocese were ever to have a functioning ecclesiastical council in charge of having our churches appropriately decorated along “Canadian” themes, surely this priest should be invited to sit among its members, if only to prevent another more intrusive individual from taking part in it. Raymond also made models for Ste-Rose’s Church, for the Jesuit church on Dauphine Street in Quebec, and elsewhere.

While in St-Henri the priest had been content with suggesting a theme to the two artists: “Love each other”, a rather broad theme as we can imagine, and they were given total freedom as to their interpretation of this theme as well as how they chose the subjects themselves, this was not the case everywhere, particularly at the Chapel of the Grand Séminaire de Montréal. True, the great seminarists of the time did not take art courses, and they perhaps never knew that Maurice Raymond was part of the “Retable”, a group set up essentially for the reform of sacred art in the land of Quebec.

Raymond also worked in Île-Perrot. He had painted a Sacred Heart some years previously. This Sacred Heart is nowhere to be found today, as one of the priests had it replaced by “something”. Without getting into a discussion on dogmatic fine points, one can certainly dispute certain tastes, no matter what institution they may be associated with.

Luckily several of his paintings ended up in the right places, places that are appropriate in every respect, such as the Séminaire de Joliette, the Provincial Museum or the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, not to mention the private collections of some of our great collectors. One reassuring thought – without stooping to nasty comparisons – is that Raymond cannot pretend to “have the greatest “Raymond” collection”…

Though a large part of Maurice Raymond’s work is based on religious inspiration, this should not eclipse his work of a purely decorative nature. Of his three children, Suzanne, who was four years old at the time, seemed the most gifted as an artist (no wonder, as both her mother and her father were artists); she also was exposed to images and decorative forms undergoing constant changes, thanks to Maurice Raymond’s ingenious inventiveness: a fish evoking some of his ethereal Carter-like compositions; a “Canadart” fabric print whose subject was created by Dad… Given the right teachers, each of us may discover unsuspected talents.

It is not surprising to hear the man who teaches the advanced course in decorative composition, who also happens to be the head of the section handling composition courses at Montreal’s École des Beaux-Arts, state such personal viewpoints on subjects that excite him:

“Pure surface is always an assumption of an essentially relative accuracy, says Raymond. No such thing exists, in and of itself, given the psychological role of certain colors, some of which have shades that seem to make them spring from the background, while others seem on the contrary to pull them back to the point of burying them. The function of decoration, Raymond explains, is to prepare a house for the well being of man. Thus, between pure painting and decorative painting, there is no sealed boundary, as both are differently human only in terms of the degree of feeling/fantasy they carry. One often hears talk of “minor art”, referring to decorative art; are there truly art forms that can be called minor, properly speaking? I don’t really see why, to the extent that the artist expresses himself fully… In order to establish a genuine boundary between major and minor art forms, between pure art and decorative art, one would have to draw a topographical map of the pictorial world. Which seems to me all the more impossible as the central boundary itself is continually shifting, due to constant variations in the center of interest from one generation to another. In our day and age, where life is so intense, one is even less likely to establish arbitrary boundaries between pure art and decorative art, as the latter can no longer confine itself to striving solely for the embellishment of human shelter, as the latter spends less time there than in the old days. Art for the sake of pure relaxation no longer exists; today art must inform every moment of man’s existence which is now mostly action-oriented.”

Raymond is a thinker with a wealth of ideas all his own on a number of topics. Having to take our leave of such a person causes us to experience once again the truth of the saying that all good things must come to an end, something none of us can do anything about. Thus, like the warm embraces that, from the moment they begin, seem deceptively eternal, our most fondly remembered encounters elude us just as we thought we could possess them. As we are about to shake hands for the last time, we tumble through topics such as abstract painting and representational painting, cubism and surrealism. What transpires from these truncated sentences exchanged at the moment of separation is the certainty that a world of developments is about to unfold, but that this will come later. “Abstract art? Even though it has some advantages in terms of plastic expression, it does not have time at its disposal, the way representational art does. And because, on the one hand, representation will vary according to the observer’s imagination and, on the other hand, the latter cannot resuscitate a whole world of his own under the guise of abstract art, it seems to me that abstract art is deprived of a great deal of the human resonance that is so characteristic of representational art.”

With these words we must part. I know – or believe I know – that we will soon have the opportunity to delve into these subjects again; I personally know why Raymond paints less often now than in the past, but I see no justification for this, though it mat be partially explained.

Au contraire!

Rolland Boulanger

[1] The article shows the following 4 reproductions: Les disciples d’Emmaüs: subject of naïve, spontaneous interpretation, where science takes a back step in favor of inspiration; Modèle pensif, whose muse is his wife, Cécile Gravel; Les pommes de terre, Collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; and Annonciation, collection of the Musée du séminaire in Joliette.

© Copyright - Maurice Raymond, painter