BOLVIN, GILLES, wood-carver; baptized 30 Aug. 1710 in the parish of Saint-Nicolas d’Avesnes (Avesnes-sur-Helpe, dept. of Nord), France, illegitimate son of Jean-François Bolvin and Marie-Anne Isabeau; buried 31 Jan. 1766 at Trois-Rivières.
In all probability Gilles Bolvin came to Canada in 1729. Exactly when he settled at Trois-Rivières is not known but he was certainly there in 1731 already practising the wood-carver’s craft, as we learn from a bill of sale drawn up before the notary Pierre Petit* on 19 November of that year.
Gilles Bolvin made his career principally in the region of Trois-Rivières. Like most artisans of the period, however, he moved about fairly regularly to practise his craft. Thus he worked at Lachenaie, Boucherville, La Pérade, Batiscan, L’Assomption, Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Champlain, and Pointe-aux-Trembles (Neuville).
In 1734 he contracted for the interior decoration of the third parish church in Trois-Rivières. According to Gérard Morisset*, it was at the request of the Recollet, Father Augustin Quintal*, then the parish priest, that Bolvin carved the churchwardens’ pew and the pulpit. These furnishings, which could still be admired at the beginning of the 20th century, were largely Louis XIV in inspiration, and until their destruction in 1908 constituted a fine example of Quebec art. It may be that Bolvin executed these works from sketches furnished by Quintal, for, according to Morisset again, Quintal had some experience in architecture and the arts: he is believed to have been the architect responsible for the construction of some churches in the region, including that of Sainte-Anne-d’Yamachiche. Close collaboration between Bolvin and Father Quintal cannot, however, be affirmed, for no document confirms such a hypothesis.
Yet a contract from the parish archives of Saint-Charles-de-Lachenaie does suggest Quintal may have influenced Bolvin. In signing this document on 10 Feb. 1737 Bolvin undertook to carve for the church of Saint-Charles a tabernacle, a cross, and candlesticks, and to supply the crates necessary to transport them from Trois-Rivières. At the bottom of this document, besides the signatures of Bolvin, the parish priest, and the churchwardens, appears that of Augustin Quintal. There was, therefore, a certain amount of collaboration between the two men, even if it is not certain that Father Quintal signed the contract as the architect.
In 1739, according to a deed from the registry of Hyacinthe-Olivier Pressé, Bolvin was churchwarden in charge of the church of Immaculée-Conception in Trois-Rivières. In the following years he executed a great number of carvings, among others the tabernacle of the church of Sainte-Famille in Boucherville, done sometime between 1745 and 1750, and the retable of the church of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, carved around the same period. In the 1750s, however, there was a drop in his artistic production. Perhaps because he was eager to increase his income, Bolvin began to be interested in business, but he soon became involved in unlawful activities. In fact, an ordinance issued by Intendant Hocquart* on 26 June 1748 forbade Bolvin to sell spirits, “on pain of a fine of 300 livres for the first infraction and a more severe penalty, including corporal punishment, in the event of a repetition of the offence.”
Bolvin appears again in 1759, when he contracts to do carving for the church of Sainte-Geneviève in Berthier. A contract drawn up at Trois-Rivières before the notary Louis Pillard indicates that this carving was to consist of “a retable in the Roman style,” two statues representing St Peter and St John, some bas-reliefs, and a paschal candlestick. It seems that Bolvin never completed these works, which underwent numerous transformations during the 19th century. Shortly before working at Berthier, Bolvin had carved two retables for the church of Saint-Pierre-du-Portage in L’Assomption.
Bolvin’s wood-carving was not limited to these works, but it is difficult to estimate the whole of his production. Thanks, however, to the surviving pieces, it is possible to appreciate the value of his work. Bolvin’s carving was characterized mainly by the superabundance of decorative motifs. The tabernacle in the church of Sainte-Famille in Boucherville is a good illustration of his style, with its multitude of floral motifs, tracery, and garlands.
Gilles Bolvin was married three times. On 24 May 1732, at Trois-Rivières, he married Marie-Marguerite Lamarque, by whom he had nine children. She died in 1748, and in May of the following year he took his second wife, Claire Jutras. According to Gérard Morisset it was of this marriage that Jean-Baptiste, the only one of Bolvin’s sons to become a wood-carver, was born. Finally, on 26 Oct. 1761, seven years after the death of his second wife, Bolvin married Angélique Béland; she died in 1764, two years before her husband.
AJTR, Greffe de Louis Pillard, 28 févr. 1759; Greffe de H.-O. Pressé, 24 mai 1739; Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Trois-Rivières, 24 mai 1732, 31 janv. 1766. Archives paroissiales de Saint-Charles (Lachenaie, Qué.), Livres de comptes, I, 1725–1739. Archives paroissiales de Sainte-Geneviève (Berthier, Qué.), Livres de comptes, I, II, IOA, Dossier Gilles Bolvin, sculpteur. P.-G. Roy, Inv. ord. int., III, 107. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Alan Gowans, Church architecture in New France; Looking at architecture in Canada (Toronto, 1958). R. H. Hubbard, The development of Canadian art (Ottawa, ). Gérard Morisset, L’architecture en Nouvelle-France (Québec, 1949). Ramsay Traquair, The old architecture of Quebec (Toronto, 1947). Raymond Douville, “Sur deux retables de l’église de L’Assomption,” RHAF, XII (1958–59), 30–35. Gérard Morisset, “Le sculpteur Gilles Bolvin,” Technique (Montréal), XXVII (1952), 609–19; “Le sculpteur sur bois, Gilles Bolvin,” RUL, III (1949), 684–94.