LEVASSEUR, NOËL, master wood-carver, b. 1680 at Quebec, son of Noel Levasseur, carpenter, and Marguerite Guay and grandson of Jean Levasseur*, dit Lavigne, carpenter; d. 13 Dec. 1740 at Quebec.
Little is known about Noël Levasseur’s apprenticeship years, but it can be supposed that he learned the trade of carpenter with his father, and that he was introduced to wood-carving by the masters of the school at Saint-Joachim. By his marriage contract with Marie-Madeleine Turpin, dated 3 April 1701, we can place him at Montreal, where he had probably been living for some time to complete his training. Indeed he was in Montreal and in such close contact with the carver Charles Chaboulié, who was at the time a bachelor, that the latter undertook in 1702 to leave all his property to the first-born of the Levasseur couple. Unfortunately none of Chaboulié’s work permits an assessment of his possible influence upon Noël Levasseur.
After finally settling at Quebec in 1703, Noel Levasseur raised a family of 13 children, and acquired a clientele among the parishes and communities of Quebec and the surrounding districts. He also worked for individuals, however; for example, Levasseur “promises and undertakes to set out immediately for Cap Saint-Ignace, in which place he will do all the carving and ornamentation required for the ship which the said [Captain Louis] Prat is having built there. . . .” Although no trace has come down to us of ship-carvings of the 18th century, we must not forget that secular carving was practised in the French colony. Moreover, to Noel Levasseur are attributed two scrolls in polychrome carved wood representing the royal coat of arms of France; one of these is in the Quebec museum, the other in the Public Archives of Canada. Scrolls are supposed to have been ordered by Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros* de Léry in 1727 to embellish the gates and administrative buildings of the town of Quebec.
Although the name of Levasseur is to be found in the account books of many parishes around Quebec, unfortunately few examples remain to testify to his work. This is the case at Saint-Laurent (Île d’Orléans), where he made a retable in 1711, at Lauson, where he carried out the same kind of work from 1730 to 1733, at Saint-Augustin, where he worked in 1731, at Notre-Dame in Quebec for 1732, and at Beauport for 1733. He had also worked at Varennes in 1726, at Pointe-aux-Trembles (Montreal) in 1727, and at Boucherville in 1729. It is difficult to trace today the “Vierge à l’Enfant” at Notre-Dame de la Jeune-Lorette which bore an inscription beginning as follows: “I am given by Noël Levasseur, wood-carver, and his wife Marie Madeleine Turpin on 1 March 1729, to be carried in the procession of the scapular and the rosary . . . ,” Similarly we cannot track down “two wooden figures representing the Holy Virgin and St Joseph and two others representing the ox and the ass,” which were carved in 1733 for the church of Sainte-Croix de Lotbinière.
Besides the high altar of L’Islet, probably done by Noël Levasseur in 1728, two works of outstanding importance have survived which we can attribute to him with certainty: the high altar in the chapel of the Hôpital Général in Quebec (1722), and the retable of the Ursuline chapel (1732–36). The first of these was no doubt executed with the help of his eldest son François-Noel*, and the second with the help of Jean-Baptiste-Antoine* as well. These two carvers owed their entire training to their father, and worked with him until his death. This family venture continued for a long time, for after 1740 the Levasseur sons shared the same workshop and carried on their craft in the same places.
The tabernacle of the high altar in the chapel of the Hôpital Général constitutes a work unique in its kind. It is an architectural structure in gilded wood, of great simplicity of design: on a predella is a forepart, which extends forward in steps; it has a curved arch supported by ten Corinthian columns; this forepart is surmounted by a dome, a lantern-tower, and a flying angel, and has two incurvated wings at the base of which are eight niches set in between Corinthian columns, the upper portion being made up of three levels embellished with open-work decorative motifs. The base of the forepart bears the arms of Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix], who donated this high altar to the nuns of the Hôpital Général. The eight niches in the wings and the five in the dome contain statuettes which are still a puzzle today: they were not done by the same carver. The statuettes of the dome seem to have been entrusted to one carver and those of the wings to another; one of the two might have been Noël Levasseur. This is only an hypothesis, however, for the necessary studies of the styles have not yet been carried out and documentation is lacking.
The retable of the Ursuline chapel constitutes one of the major pieces of carving in French Canada. The Levasseurs, father and sons, were perhaps assisted by their cousin Pierre-Noël. The work in question is a retable in the Recollet manner (see Juconde Drué), the style of which was slightly modified during a renovation in 1902. It is composed in traditional fashion, being divided into three parts separated by Corinthian columns; the centre part encloses the high altar, which is surmounted by a picture of the Annunciation and by an aedicule, topped with an arched fronton, which contains a statue of St Joseph holding the infant Jesus. In the right and left panels are incorporated the sacristy doors, which are surmounted by niches containing statues of St Foy and St Augustine. Right at the top, on the entablature, two angels in adoration form the link with the centre part of the retable. The five carvings modelled in the round are perhaps by François-Noël Levasseur. The pedestals of the columns and the sacristy doors are decorated with reliefs. The latter seem more clumsily done than the carvings modelled in the round. The tabernacle of the high altar displays a much more ornate style than that of the Hôpital Général. It is an architectural composition made up of three foreparts; on the centre one is a relief representing the Good Shepherd. A pulpit with a sounding-board completes this ensemble of carved, gilded, and painted wood.
If Noël Levasseur was not the only one to work at this retable, which is in Louis XIV style, he was certainly its guiding spirit. The same style, although simplified, is to be found in his sons’ works after 1740. Indeed through his two sons, François-Noël and Jean-Baptiste-Antoine, and their cousin Pierre-Noël, Noël Levasseur was to dominate Canadian wood-carving in the 18th century long after his death.
IOA, Dossiers Levasseur. Jug. et délib., I, III, IV, V. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, V, 387f. Ramsay Traquair, The old architecture of Quebec (Toronto, 1947). 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 dynastic d’artisans: Les Levasseur,” La Patrie (Montréal), 8 janv. 1950.