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March 15, 2001 Gagnon launches the Jarislowsky Chair in Canadian Art History





François-Marc Gagnon


Dr. Gagnon, Chair in Canadian Art History


Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj


by Barbara Black

The new Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art was celebrated on March 6 with a lecture by one of Quebec’s most passionate communicators on the visual arts.

The Institute’s Chair in Canadian Art History was made possible through a gift of $500,000 from Gail and Stephen Jarislowsky, matched by $500,000 from the University.

Stephen Jarislowsky is a well-known Montreal investment counsellor, and his wife Gail has a Master’s in English literature from Concordia. The couple, who are longtime art-lovers, were obviously elated with the results of their gift.

The distinguished Quebec art historian François-Marc Gagnon is the first holder of the Institute’s Chair in Canadian Art Studies. He gave a capacity audience in the downtown Faculty Club a typically engaging talk on the early painter of life in New France, Cornelius Krieghoff.

Much loved in English Canada, particularly for Christmas cards, Krieghoff’s bucolic, often humorous scenes of habitant and aboriginal life have been less popular in French Canada, thanks in part to a denunciation by the influential critic Gérard Morisset early in the 20th century.

However, Gagnon showed how Germanic myths about the redemptive powers of the forest informed Krieghoff’s paintings of the Canadian wilderness, and pointed to details in his paintings that showed his sympathy with his French-Canadian neighbours.

A dynamic and inspiring teacher, Dr. Gagnon taught for many years at the Université de Montréal, where he conducted significant research and has been intimately involved in the joint PhD program that involves Concordia, Université de Montréal, UQAM and Laval.

His expertise is internationally recognized, particularly on the Automatiste movement of the 1940s and early 50s, and he won the Governor-General’s Award in 1978 for his critical biography of Paul-Emile Borduas.

As Professor Brian Foss noted in his introduction, however, the average Quebecer is more likely to have caught Gagnon’s passion for art through his television programs on the subject. Made some time ago, these programs can still be seen on Télé-Québec and Radio-Québec.

Foss told the audience, “François-Marc tells stories of municipal trash collectors calling out a string of Canadian artists’ names when they recognize him in the street — perhaps the ultimate vindication of one’s effectiveness as a teacher.”

“For many years,” Dr. Gagnon said before the reception, “I have dreamed of an institute in Canadian art, not only to encourage research in the field, but also to make the general public more aware of its richness.

“Now, Concordia and Gail and Stephen Jarislowsky are making that dream a reality. Concordia, incidentally, was the first university in North America to offer a PhD in Canadian art history.”

Dean of Fine Arts Christopher Jackson said that given Concordia’s longstanding commitment to the study of Canadian art, the establishment of the Institute is particularly gratifying.

Loren Lerner, chair of Art History, told the audience that the first international fellow, Rosa Schulenburg, will come to Concordia this summer from Germany to do research and teach a course. She is interested in popular art, especially outdoors.

The Institute will seek to further the appreciation and understanding of Canadian art through dealings with the academic and museum communities, research, projects and publications, conferences and the production of materials for teaching at all levels and the general public.

In keeping with a newly established practice regarding donors to the university, an inscribed copy of Dr. Gagnon’s lavishly illustrated biography of Paul-Émile Borduas has been acquired for the Webster Library in the Jarislowskys’ name.