Arts & Culture

Jean Gauvreau, Canadian Landscapist

BY Susan Hallett TIMEOctober 23, 2013 PRINT

The stately Chateau Montsarrat in Gatineau was a fitting place to hold an exhibition of paintings by the well-known Outaouais artist Jean Gauvreau. On display earlier this month were 30 fine works from an oeurvre that stretches over 40 years. 

Born in Ottawa, Gauvreau lives and paints in Gatineau, across the river from the nation’s capital. He teaches art at the Visual Arts Centre in Ottawa and at Brushstroke Art Gallery in Carleton Place, Ont. In fact, several of his students were at the exhibition when I was there.

Gauvreau told me he started out working as a window dresser in Ottawa. At the time there were no art schools in the city, but he had studied art in high school. He then signed up for a graphic arts course at Algonquin College, where he obtained his degree. 

Gauvreau’s love of nature and interest in the French and English heritage in the area has led him to reflect on the two cultures. “My painting is a personal interpretation of how I have seen both cultures throughout the years,” he said.

His first showings took place in the 1970s on the West Coast and in Ottawa. The artist’s statement says that his “early influences were the visual impact of the surrounding landscapes and the surprising variation of colour and transition of the seasons.” 

Gauvreau’s works are now in collections in Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec, as well as in Europe, Russia, and China. 

Following in the footsteps of the great Canadian landscape artist J. W. Morrice, Gauvreau’s oils and acrylics show the changing seasons brilliantly. He also paints what used to be called “genre” paintings—portraying people doing everyday things, such as logging or playing hockey. These are reminiscent of the work of Cornelius Kreighoff, perhaps Canada’s first genre painter. 

Gauvreau’s works seem to draw viewers right in. One can almost feel the spray of water from his waterfall canvas. It is this talent for portraying the feeling and spirit of his subject—be it a waterfall, a church, or hockey players—that is so special.

The use of rich colours, the artist’s mastery of depth of field, and his talent for unusual composition in his works make them unique. They show none of the flat, poster-like look of the painters who made up the Group of Seven. When viewing “Harvest,” an oil painting I admired, I had the sensation of touching the wheat as it drew me into the canvas. 

Six paintings sold at the exhibition, which is very unusual, and Gauvreau got one commission.

For those who missed the exhibition, go to www.jeangauvreau.com for more information and a tour of the artist’s works.

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings and Doctor’s Review among others. Email: hallett_susan@hotmail.com

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