LAFRANCE (Hianveux; Hianveux, dit Lafrance), AMBROISE (baptized Ambroise-Adhémar), silversmith; b. 20 Dec. 1847 at Quebec, son of André Hianveux, a bookbinder, and Marie-Louise Pageot; m. there 2 Sept. 1874 Adéline Martel in the church of Saint-Roch; d. 29 July 1905 at Quebec and was buried 1 August in the cemetery of Notre-Dame de Belmont in Sainte-Foy.
Ambroise Lafrance, about whom not much has been written, has attracted interest primarily as an artist carrying on a tradition. As a silversmith he was indeed heir to the great school launched by Laurent Amiot* at the end of the 18th century. He was apprenticed to Amiot’s successor, François Sasseville*, and probably completed his training with Sasseville’s nephew, Pierre Lespérance*. After that he likely remained with the latter as a journeyman; he worked in his studio on Rue du Palais (Côte du Palais) at the corner of Rue Charlevoix in Quebec. After Lespérance’s death in 1882 Lafrance continued on his own at the same place for more than 20 years. In 1905 his widow and sons moved the business a short distance to 26 Rue Saint-Nicolas, and they kept it going until about 1910.
Not only did Lafrance enter fully into the tradition begun by Amiot through his apprenticeship and the transfer of workplaces and even tools, but he also manifested an evident continuity in serving a clientele similar to that of his predecessors – mainly parish fabriques and the well-to-do. Moreover, even as the 20th century dawned he occasionally used a process antiquated for this period, creating works by first melting down old pieces to recover the metal. In 1896, for example, at the request of the parish priest of Saint-Roch, Antoine-Adolphe Gauvreau*, he made nine sacred vessels from the melted table silver belonging to the fabrique.
The articles for domestic use that came from Lafrance’s workshop display a certain conservatism and clearly show that he was the heir to tradition. The various pieces of flatware that he made, for example, are in the shapes of the Georgian period. His children’s cups, however, are more remarkable; although they too hark back to the British heritage of the early 19th century, by the quality of the metal and calibre of workmanship they stand comparison with manufactured objects of the late 1890s.
A survey of Lafrance’s church silver points in another direction; it was probably in this field that the artist reached the peak of his attainment. Although he made the same type of articles for the same kind of clients as had his predecessors, he executed them very differently. The range of church pieces was much more limited than previously, and Lafrance confined himself to two genres: the vessels that had to be made of precious metals – chalices, ciboria, and monstrances – and smaller items such as reliquary pectoral crosses, baptismal ewers, lunulated boxes, ampullae for holy oil, and pyxes. Gone was the period of splendour when processional crosses, sanctuary lamps, and fonts were also in solid silver. Lafrance does not even seem ever to have executed a set of cruets for the altar.
Lafrance’s large storiated chalices may best illustrate his contribution as an artist. There is certainly a family likeness between his works and Amiot’s. But in the hands of the master’s successors, in accordance with the very concept he conveyed, the type underwent various transformations. The chalice belonging to the parish of Saint-Michel at Sillery, dated 1888, is characterized by flowing lines, massive forms, and overabundant decoration, all much in keeping with the sensibility of the late 19th century. Furthermore, the decoration no longer has the symbolism present in Amiot’s work or the well-knit iconographic design of the period when Sasseville introduced medallions cast into the decoration of the works. In Lafrance’s work there is no longer symbolism or anecdote, but rather a series of images and evocations. A chalice in the Henry Birks Collection of Canadian Silver illustrates another tendency: an eclectic spirit. On this piece of work there are both gadroons reminiscent of the mid 18th century and rays of the Sacred Heart typical of the first third of the 19th century.
The most outstanding piece of work done by Lafrance is the monstrance belonging to the parish of Saint-Charles-Borromée, in Charlesbourg. Executed in 1884, it is the only one he ever created. Again the principles advanced by Amiot early in the 19th century are visible but the elongation of its lines and the arrangement of its abundant decoration resulted in a piece of a new sort.
Ambroise Lafrance may rightly be considered a successor to the great school of silversmiths at Quebec. A sensitive and intelligent artist, he was able to enhance the legacy passed on to him, and in so doing find his place in his own period.
[Efforts to identify the works of Ambroise Lafrance have led to some confusion. Although he signed his pieces with the mark he inherited from Laurent Amiot (the two silversmiths had the same initials, in reverse order), he added a head within an oval. Marius Barbeau* drew attention to this fact in 1939, but his observation was little noted.
The Henry Birks Coll. of Canadian Silver, held at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, contains the largest number of works by Lafrance, as well as tools belonging to him. The Musée du Québec and several parishes in the Quebec City region also have some of his creations. r.v.]
ANQ-Q, M186, A.-A. Lafrance; Abraham Lafrance; CE1-1, 21 déc. 1847, 1er août 1905; CE1-22, 2 sept. 1874; CN1-255, 30 nov. 1863. AP, Saint-Roch (Québec), Une page de l’hist. de la paroisse de Saint-Roch de Québec, 31 déc. 1905. L’Action catholique (Québec), 14 avril 1938: 24. Marius Barbeau, “Nos anciens orfèvres,” Le Canada français (Québec), 2e sér., 26 (1938–39): 914–22. Directory, Quebec, 1905–6, 1909–10. E. A. Jones, “Old church silver in Canada,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 12 (1918), sect.ii: 135–50; Old silver of Europe & America from early times to the nineteenth century, etc. (London, 1928). J. E. Langdon, Canadian silversmiths, 1700–1900 (Toronto, 1966). Gérard Morisset, Le Cap-Santé, ses églises et son trésor, C. Beauregard et al., édit. (2e éd., Montréal, 1980); Coup d’œil sur les arts en Nouvelle-France (Québec, 1941; réimpr., 1942). René Villeneuve, “L’orfèvrerie ancienne,” Le Musée du Quebec: 500 œuvres choisies (Québec, 1983), 307–42.