LEVASSEUR, PIERRE-NOËL, wood-carver, surveyor; b. 28 Nov. 1690 at Quebec, son of Pierre Levasseur, a master carpenter, and Madeleine Chapeau; d. 12 Aug. 1770 at Quebec.
Pierre-Noël Levasseur belonged to the great family of craftsmen in wood which left its particular stamp on artistic production in Canada in the 18th century. Two great lines, descended from the brothers Jean* and Pierre Levasseur*, constituted this dynasty. Pierre-Noël Levasseur, a grandson of Pierre, was one of its principal representatives. On the other side, Jean Levasseur’s descendants included famous people such as Noël Levasseur* and his two sons, François-Noël Levasseur* and Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Levasseur*, dit Delort.
No apprentice’s diploma in the name of Pierre-Noël Levasseur has been discovered. He probably learned the basic elements of his craft working either with his father or with Noël, a distant cousin, who was already a master-carver in Quebec when Pierre-Noël reached the age of apprenticeship. On the other hand towards 1705 the École des Arts et Métiers at Saint-Joachim was enjoying a profitable period under the administration of Abbé Louis Soumande*. It is therefore possible that Pierre-Noël received some instruction at that school.
Several parish archives furnish information about this wood-carver’s career. The references, however, too often are concerned with pieces of work that have been destroyed or misplaced, and it is difficult to get an over-all picture of Levasseur’s production. In 1723 he was living in the Montreal region – on 3 March of that year he had his son Charles baptized in the church of L’Enfant-Jésus-de-Pointe-aux-Trembles. In addition, the account books of the church of Sainte-Famille-de-Boucherville permit us to date Levasseur’s earliest piece of work from 1723: on 18 July he signed a contract before the notary Marten Tailhandier* to make a retable for that church. A little later he did some work at Varennes for the church of Sainte-Anne, including “the main door.”
Absent from Quebec in the 1720s, Levasseur returned to the region around 1730. At that time he is believed to have given up carving religious subjects for a few years to devote himself to secular works. His name is mentioned on 7 March 1746 in the deliberations and decisions of the Conseil Supérieur in connection with a lawsuit concerning various wood-carving jobs on ships: “the council has reduced the Sieur Levasseur’s memorandum of costs to the sum of 1,362 livres for the works done by him for the ships Imprévue, Saint-Louis, Union, Centaure, Expérience, Astrée.” The date of this lawsuit and the time required for building each of these ships permit the placing of these works in the period 1730–44. On 31 May 1737, thanks to his “talent and experience,” he obtained a commission as royal surveyor and geometrician in the government of Quebec. Unfortunately nothing is known about Levasseur’s career as a surveyor, but it is certain that after the conquest he was still practising this profession.
Towards 1742 he completed pieces of carving for parish councils in the Quebec region. His name is mentioned in 1742 and 1743 in the account books of the parish of Saint-Charles-de-Charlesbourg, where he carved two statues representing St Peter and St Paul. The last known reference of importance to his artistic production comes from the registry of the notary Jean-Antoine Saillant in Quebec. It concerns a contract drawn up on 29 Nov. 1750 engaging Pierre-Noël Levasseur to carve and have gilded a tabernacle, a retable, and a baldachin for a confraternity called the Congrégation de l’Immaculée-Conception de Notre-Dame.
Of all the works completed by Levasseur during his long career as a wood-carver, there are today only a few vestiges. The parish of Saint-Charles de Charlesbourg still has its two carvings of St Peter and St Paul, which are typical of traditional Quebec wood-carving. The curved line, an important characteristic of baroque art, is evident, with a certain vigour in the draping of the garments and the movement of the subjects. These carvings give an impression of strength and lightness of touch worthy of the best Quebec tradition.
On 7 Jan. 1719, in Quebec, Pierre-Noël Levasseur had married Marie-Agnès de Lajoüe, daughter of François de Lajoüe, architect, contractor, and engineer. The marriage contract had been signed in Quebec on 21 Nov. 1718 before the notary Florent de La Cetière*. Three of their sons carried on this line of wood-carvers: the eldest, Pierre-Noël, studied wood-carving in France at Rochefort; Charles and Stanislas worked with their father, one at the church of Charlesbourg, the other at the former church of Saint-Vallier.
AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Québec, 28 nov. 1690, 13 août 1770. ANQ, Greffe de Florent de La Cetière, 21 nov. 1718; Greffe de J.-A. Saillant, 29 nov. 1750; NF, Ord. int., 31 mai 1737; NF, Registres du Cons. sup., 7 mars 1746; QBC, Cours de justice, Conseil militaire de Québec, 6 juin 1761. ANQ-M, Greffe de Marien Tailhandier, dit La Beaume, 18 juill. 1723. Archives paroissiales de Saint-Charles (Charlesbourg, Qué.), livres de comptes, I, 1675–1749. Archives paroissiales de Sainte-Anne (Varennes, Qué.), livres de comptes, I, 1725–1729. IOA, Dossier Pierre-Noël Levasseur, sculpteur. “Pour servir à l’histoire de la sculpture religieuse au Canada,” BRH, XXXIII (1927), 367–68. “Recensement de Québec, 1744” (APQ Rapport). Tanguay, Dictionnaire.
Marius Barbeau, J’ai vu Québec (Québec, 1957). Gérard Morisset, L’architecture en Nouvelle-France (Québec, 1949); Coup d’oeil sur les arts. Musée du Québec, Sculpture traditionnelle du Québec (Québec, 1967), 64. Charles Trudelle, Paroisse de Charlesbourg (Québec, 1887). Marius Barbeau, “Les Le Vasseur, maîtres menuisiers, sculpteurs et statuaires (Québec, circa 1648–1818),” Les Archives de Folklore (Québec), III (1948), 35–49. Gérard Morisset, “Une dynastie d’artisans: les Levasseur,” La Patrie (Montréal), 8 janv. 1950; “Pierre-Noël Levasseur(1690–1770),”La Patrie, 9 nov. 1952.