BEAUVAIS, dit Saint-James, RENÉ, woodcarver and carpenter; b. 8 Oct. 1785 in La Prairie, Que., son of Jean-Baptiste Bauvais and Marianne Lancto; d. there, unmarried, 4 Sept. 1837.
It is not known where or with whom René Beauvais, dit Saint-James, did his apprenticeship. There is reason to think it was with someone from Louis Quévillon*’s workshop during the first decade of the 19th century, but there is no documentary evidence to substantiate this hypothesis. Certainly by 1812 he was living at Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Laval) and was a master woodcarver. The following year he signed a contract to do some carpentry, woodcarving, and gilding in the church at Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville (Sainte-Thérèse). From 1813 till 1816 he worked on the retable (the structure housing the altar), rood-loft, cornice, and vaulting of this church, tasks which woodcarver François Dugal then took up. From 1813 Saint-James also did carving, gilding, marbling, and silvering on the cornices, churchwardens’ pew, and vaulting of the church in Saint-Constant. In January 1815 the fabrique of the parish of Sainte-Marie-de-Monnoir (Saint-Nom-de-Marie, Marieville) engaged him to do some carving.
A month later Saint-James established a partnership with Quévillon, Joseph Pépin, and Paul Rollin*, the four collaborating on the churches in Varennes and Pointe-Claire. In January 1817 the partnership was dissolved but Saint-James became Quévillon’s partner again, and they undertook to do carving and gilding for the churches in Pointe-Claire, Verchères, Saint-Eustache, and Pierrefonds. In 1821 Saint-James joined with Rollin to do the carving, gilding, and silvering in the church in Saint-Mathias. In collaboration with Dugal he carved the pulpit, churchwardens’ pew, retable, and several decorative elements in the church of La Présentation. He did some carpentry in the churches at Saint-Benoît (Mirabel) and Saint-Eustache the following year.
After Quévillon’s death in 1823 Saint-James gave up several of the contracts he had made. Consequently it was Dugal who completed some of the carving at La Présentation. Saint-James went into partnership with Rollin and Dugal, and on 21 Aug. 1823 the three signed a contract to build the steeple of the church in Lachine. Rollin and Saint-James took in carpenter Simon Hogue that year in order to work on the roof of the church in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. The firm of Rollin, Dugal, and Saint-James was dissolved on 7 April 1824. A week later Saint-James and Dugal formed another one for a ten-year period. In October 1825 a fire destroyed Saint-James’s workshop. Three years later he signed a contract for the church in Rigaud, which would be completed by Nicolas Perrin. In 1831 he did some carving in the churches in Saint-Sulpice and Saint-Édouard.
Saint-James had a number of apprentices, who were taken on for about five years and were lodged with him. He taught them woodcarving, gilding, and marbling. When he died in 1837 La Minerve paid him this tribute: “Society has just lost one of its good citizens, Mr René St. James, architect, militia captain, and former justice of the peace and commissioner, of St. Vincent de Paul parish, where his workshop was normally located. Mr St. James for many years worked on the decoration of our churches and contributed greatly to improving this type of production, in which several of the numerous workers who were trained under him are engaging profitably at the present time.” He unquestionably had an influence on woodcarving in the Montreal region. It is difficult, however, to identify his own particular work, since it is closely linked with the production of Quévillon’s workshop in the period 1815–23. Thereafter he collaborated closely with Rollin and Dugal. Two madonnas at the Musée du Québec, one from the church in Chambly and the other from La Prairie, are attributed to him. The interior of the church in Saint-Mathias is a fine example of woodcarving in which he had a hand.
ANQ-M, CE1-54, 9 oct. 1785, 6 sept. 1837; CN1-14, 12 oct. 1826, 26 juin 1832; CN1-68, 12 févr. 1817; CN1-96, 13 nov. 1812; 15 janv., 31 août, 22 oct. 1816; 3 janv. 1818; 15, 19 févr. 1820; 9 mars, 10 oct. 1821; 24 mars, 21 août, 13 oct. 1823; 7, 14 avril 1824; CN1-107, 9, 12 sept. 1813; CN1-173, 26 déc. 1833; CN1-273, 16 mai, 4 juill. 1813; 23 janv., 30 mars 1823; CN1-317, 5 mars 1820; CN1-334, 3 févr. 1815; CN1-375, 21 janv. 1815, 21 févr. 1821; CN1-383, 14 juill. 1816; CN1-391, 19 août 1817; CN2-79, 4 mars 1822; CN6-2, 12 févr. 1820; CN6-27, 1eravril 1819. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, dossier René Beauvais, dit Saint-James. La Minerve, 14 sept. 1837. Émile Vaillancourt, Une maîtrise d’art en Canada (1800–1823)(Montréal, 1920). Marius Barbeau, “Louis Quévillon; des Écorres,” Académie canadienne-française, Cahiers (Montréal), 9: 142–58. Gérard Morisset, “Louis Quévillon, fondateur de l’école des Écorres, 1749–1823,” La Patrie, 2 oct. 1949: 112.