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Laliberté Page 41

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Alfred Laliberté - 1878-1953

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous bust by Alfred Laliberté, one of Canada's top sculptors of the early 20th century.

A powerful bust that displays Alfred's skill at turning plain plaster into a fine portrait of a human being, with a face creased with worry and personality, in a way that few other artists could match.

It is also rare, the only one we have ever seen, and huge. At a commanding height of 43 cms, it was clearly designed for institutional use, or only the finest homes.

Alfred hailed from the Eastern Townships of Quebec. It was no accident, then, that his family knew Wilfrid Laurier, a lawyer who became an MP for the area, and then Prime Minister in 1896. In fact Laurier suggested to Alfred's father to let the 18 year old go to Montreal to study art the same year.

In 1898, the year after Laurier was knighted as Sir Wilfrid in London, Alfred came to note as a sculptor when he won a Provincial competition, in Quebec City, with a life-size bust of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The bust left, which Alfred registered in 1929, must have borrowed from his original creation thirty years before, but is now imbued with his powers of a mature artist, and no doubt motivated by Sir Wilfrid's powerful legacy, which people realized increasingly after his death in 1919.

The bust alludes to a figure of feminine grace and sensitivity, but backed up by male toughness. It is the face of an intellectual; it is the face of purpose, of seriousness, of open-faced determination, of concern for matters of state that affect Everyman, not merely party politics. And oddly, for a politician, it is a face that exudes trust.

Because the material has degraded so much since Laurier's passing, no serious artist makes busts of politicians anymore, certainly not for sale to the public. That is why, even in the days of Hébert, MacCarthy, and Laliberté, they preferred to turn out busts and statues of heroic and everyday figures from Canadian History - those who, unsung, pay their own way through life, and do not subsist on the public purse for their wages, their expenses, and pensions.

Bust, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Alfred Laliberté - 1929
Orig. plaster - Size - 43 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
Signed & inscribed ENRG - 1929 #8473
Busts of political figures in Victorian and Edwardian times were commonly, and proudly, displayed, not only in offices and public buildings, but, in smaller copies in private homes, when people could afford them. Who today would think of displaying, in a prominent place, a bust of Prime Ministers Harper or Blair, or President Bush?

Today their faces are more likely to be found hung in effigy for what they do to their respective nations. Why the difference? Because today we no longer just look at the faces of public figures, and assume they deserve respect. We can see through them, to what they really are, or are doing... in our name ... with our money...

Why the change? Because we have the most powerfully educated group of voters in the history of western democracy, with an electorate that is as educated, informed, and experienced, often more so, than the people who greedily grasp for political office, and its attendant riches, and appropriate the national will for themselves and their cronies, err I mean, fellow patriots.


Left
Alfred's marble bust of Sir Robert Borden, who ended Sir Wilfrid Laurier's unbroken rule from 1896-1911, which is still the longest uninterrupted term in office of any Canadian Prime Minister. Sir Robert saw Canada through World War I and still peers warily from his vantage point on our 100 dollar bill. Fittingly, this Conservative watches only over his upper class friends; few ordinary Canadians ever see a 100 dollar bill...

In 1902, Alfred went to Paris, for three years, to study at the École des beaux-arts. There he came under the influence of the powerful sculptures of Auguste Rodin. He met and developed a life-long friendship with Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, also from Laurier's riding of Arthabaska, and possibly Canada's finest all round artist ever. (Right Laliberté's bronze of his friend Marc-Aurèle.)

Throughout his life, Alfred executed over 900 known busts and figures in bronze, marble, wood, and plaster, either as single figures or as groups. His larger figures grace some of Canada's finest monuments.

 

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Bust, Champlain, Port Royal, NS - Alfred Laliberté
Orig. bronze bust - Size - 3.5" x 5.5"
Found - Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
Standing on the very spot where Champlain first stepped ashore to pick the spot for Canada's oldest European settled site, just below where the Habitation was built in 1605. It gives Canadians the best possible visual touchstone - emotional as well as physical - to the man, and the place where settled life for Europeans in Canada began.


Alfred Laliberté created this extremely fine bust of a Canadian founding father, Samuel de Champlain.

The bust is pure fantasy of course, since no real likeness of Champlain is known to exist. Like others, before and since, Alfred probably based his likeness of Champlain on a portrait that appeared in 1900 by E-J Massicote.

But instead of making him look more like a refined, satiny courtier, Alfred imbued him - borrowing the technique from CW Jefferys and JD Kelly - with the rugged square looks of a strong adventurer type, tough enough to tame a wilderness country like Canada. The bust reflects then, for most of us, a man powerful enough in our imagination to accomplish everything The Father of New France actually achieved some four hundred years ago.

So, once more, as he did with Laurier above, Alfred Laliberté accomplished in a bust what only the best artists can achieve: melding the actual surface looks of a real person with the creative power within - the inner demons - that motivates only the best among us to achieve super human results.

Fittingly, demonstrating the best possible mix of great art, important public figures, and historic events, the bust is installed on the very spot where, in 1605, Champlain became a leading actor in establishing the first permanent European settlement in Canada and the eastern seaboard of the northern United States. The first place where the white man came and stayed...

This site, at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, is a Parks Canada museum, which features, on its original location, the Habitation of 1605, rebuilt from the original plans. When reconstructed in 1939-41, it was the first National Historic Site to have a replica building erected, marking a milestone in heritage preservation that has been greatly duplicated since in other places.

 

 

Danger - Large and heavy bronze busts like this one, in isolated, unprotected locations, are in increasing danger, in Canada, from thieves who drive up at night, in flatbed trucks with cranes, hack them off, and hoist them aboard to turn them into cash for profit. Some bronzes - because they are great works of art by famous artists - end up in the private collections of rich men to grace their mansions in Palm Beach, London, or St. Moritz, to wow their parvenu friends and arriviste acquaintances of the jetset variety.

Others end up being hacked apart and melted for their bronze content, which gets top dollar on the metals market, like that of famed Polish Poet Taras Shevchenko, recently hacked off in Oakville, Ontario, and melted down. The two-tonne bronze statue had been safe there since 1951.

Many statues and busts, across Canada, are in locations which were once considered inviolate: parks, town squares, museum grounds, cemeteries. But these are often deserted at night making it easy to drive up in a pick-up, rip up the statue on a crane and drive off before anyone has the slightest notion that a crime has taken place.

Some authorities, to protect the monuments, have opted to move everything inside. But that is a sad solution to the purpose of public monuments to famous personalities and great national achievements.

Romans established that public events should be celebrated with public monuments, in public places, where people can mill about them and be in touch with the people and events that shaped them.

It is a sad turn of events that after 2,000 years we have to end this public expression of the people, places, and events that made us what we are.

Surely if chips can be installed in dogs to allow tracing them, then surely a chip can be installed in a public monument that would register if someone tried to tamper with it at night...

Right is another bronze copy of Laliberté's Champlain. Luckily duplicates of some of these busts are stored in other places, so a loss of one does not mean all is lost. But that is not true of many other Canadian heritage statues of which only one exists.

Right below another living bronze of Dollard des Ormeaux, which Alfred empowers as a human being eager to escape his bronzy casing. Actually it is the determination of one who is willing to fight to the death, with his little party (16), against overwhelming numbers of Iroquois (700). Tradition says that his sacrifice so demoralized the Indian war party that it abandoned all attempts to attack Montreal, so saving the little outpost colony of French Canada (some 600) from extermination in 1660.

Many art lovers know Alfred Laliberté as the sculptor of the 214 small figures he carved, and cast in bronze, representing French-Canadian heritage figures: farmers plowing, Caughnawaga Indian groups, habitants talking, religious figures, tradesmen at work, etc.

As a result his figural sculptures turn up at auctions more than those of any other Canadian sculptor and command top prices.

Counterclockwise from above La Poésie (Poetry), Le Semeur (Sower), la Foulage de l'étoffe (Pounding the cloth), La Problème, and Conteur de Contes (Story teller).

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Laliberté Page 41

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Alfred Laliberté - 1878-1953

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous bust by Alfred Laliberté, one of Canada's top sculptors of the early 20th century.

A powerful bust that displays Alfred's skill at turning plain plaster into a fine portrait of a human being, with a face creased with worry and personality, in a way that few other artists could match.

It is also rare, the only one we have ever seen, and huge. At a commanding height of 43 cms, it was clearly designed for institutional use, or only the finest homes.

Alfred hailed from the Eastern Townships of Quebec. It was no accident, then, that his family knew Wilfrid Laurier, a lawyer who became an MP for the area, and then Prime Minister in 1896. In fact Laurier suggested to Alfred's father to let the 18 year old go to Montreal to study art the same year.

In 1898, the year after Laurier was knighted as Sir Wilfrid in London, Alfred came to note as a sculptor when he won a Provincial competition, in Quebec City, with a life-size bust of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The bust left, which Alfred registered in 1929, must have borrowed from his original creation thirty years before, but is now imbued with his powers of a mature artist, and no doubt motivated by Sir Wilfrid's powerful legacy, which people realized increasingly after his death in 1919.

The bust alludes to a figure of feminine grace and sensitivity, but backed up by male toughness. It is the face of an intellectual; it is the face of purpose, of seriousness, of open-faced determination, of concern for matters of state that affect Everyman, not merely party politics. And oddly, for a politician, it is a face that exudes trust.

Because the material has degraded so much since Laurier's passing, no serious artist makes busts of politicians anymore, certainly not for sale to the public. That is why, even in the days of Hébert, MacCarthy, and Laliberté, they preferred to turn out busts and statues of heroic and everyday figures from Canadian History - those who, unsung, pay their own way through life, and do not subsist on the public purse for their wages, their expenses, and pensions.

Bust, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Alfred Laliberté - 1929
Orig. plaster - Size - 43 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
Signed & inscribed ENRG - 1929 #8473
Busts of political figures in Victorian and Edwardian times were commonly, and proudly, displayed, not only in offices and public buildings, but, in smaller copies in private homes, when people could afford them. Who today would think of displaying, in a prominent place, a bust of Prime Ministers Harper or Blair, or President Bush?

Today their faces are more likely to be found hung in effigy for what they do to their respective nations. Why the difference? Because today we no longer just look at the faces of public figures, and assume they deserve respect. We can see through them, to what they really are, or are doing... in our name ... with our money...

Why the change? Because we have the most powerfully educated group of voters in the history of western democracy, with an electorate that is as educated, informed, and experienced, often more so, than the people who greedily grasp for political office, and its attendant riches, and appropriate the national will for themselves and their cronies, err I mean, fellow patriots.