DESROCHERS (Dérocher; Brien, dit Dérocher; Brien, dit Desrochers), URBAIN (baptized Pierre-Urbain), wood-carver; b. 22 Jan. 1781 in Varennes, Que., son of Joseph Brien, dit Dérocher, and Marguerite Rive; d. 19 Aug. 1860 at Quebec.
Nothing is known about the early years of Urbain Desrochers. He probably began to learn wood-carving with Louis Quévillon* around 1798, when Quévillon was working on the decoration of the church in Varennes, but no trace of an apprenticeship contract has been found. On 7 Feb. 1809 Desrochers married Marie-Josephte Rocan, dit Bastien, at Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Laval); his master, Quévillon, and Jessé Brien, dit Dérocher, also a carver, attended the ceremony. The couple had three children: Zoé, Pierre-Urbain, and Vital. Both sons followed in their father’s footsteps to become wood-carvers.
Desrochers had settled permanently in Pointe-aux-Trembles (Montreal) by 1809, but his contracts with various parishes obliged him to travel. From 1809 to 1813 he was engaged in wood-carving and gilding at the church in Saint-Henri-de-Lauzon (Saint-Henri); Quévillon had begun carving there by 1803. Since this church was demolished in 1879 no trace of their work remains. A note in the account-books of Saint-Michel (at Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse) suggests that at the same period Desrochers did part of the ornamental carving carried out by Quévillon in the parish church. From 1810 to 1818 Desrochers also decorated the church in Varennes. Only fragments of this work are left; two reliefs depicting evangelists, which came from the pulpit, are held at the National Gallery of Canada. On 15 June 1812 Desrochers contracted to decorate the base of the altar and the cornice, pilasters, stalls, and candelabra of the church of Saint-Grégoire (Bécancour). These carvings, which still exist, give some idea of the artistic quality of his work; they constitute the first church decoration that Desrochers executed without the collaboration of Quévillon. Since there is no subsequent record of collaboration, it may be conjectured that the two artists had by then ceased to work together, perhaps because of a conflict over the Bécancour contract.
From 1813 to 1819 Desrochers received several payments for decorative carving at the church of Saint-Denis, on the Richelieu River. At that time Pierre-Léandre Daveluy, an apprentice wood-carver, signed an agreement with Desrochers to help him in his work for six years. No trace of what Desrochers did remains in this parish, although part of the pilasters and some ornamental motifs are preserved in the collection belonging to the Congregation of Notre-Dame at the Ferme Saint-Gabriel in Pointe-Saint-Charles (Montreal). On 18 Feb. 1819 Desrochers contracted with the parish of Sainte-Trinité in Contrecœur to carve the vault, the retable (the structure housing the altar), the tabernacles, the base of the altars, and the pulpit, as well as to do several pieces of carpentry and wood-carving. He received payments from the churchwardens until 1830, and worked closely with the carpenter Ambroise Aubry and possibly with Louis Nerbonne.
Desrochers’s workshop seems to have been quite important during the 1820s, since the carpenter Louis Marion, the journeyman wood-carver Joseph Goupil, and the apprentice Charles Dauphin worked there. Desrochers’s son Pierre-Urbain served his apprenticeship there as well, and in 1830 also called himself a master wood-carver. From 1834 to 1838 Desrochers and his son worked on the carvings for the vault, pulpit, baldachin, and retables of the church at L’Assomption. Desrochers carried out a number of wood-carving assignments at the church of Saint-Sulpice near Montreal from 1835 to 1839, receiving several payments from its churchwardens.
No information on Desrochers’s activity during the next 21 years has been located. He apparently retired to Quebec, for he died in that city on 19 Aug. 1860, at the age of 79, and was buried there two days later.
Gérard Morisset* considered Desrochers “the most talented wood-carver of his time.” It is, however, difficult to judge his work, since much of it has been destroyed by fire or by demolition. The size of his contracts suggests that, along with other artists from Quévillon’s workshop, he was one of the important figures in the first half of the 19th century doing religious carving in the Montreal region.
ANQ-M, CE1-5, 2 sept. 1810, 14 déc. 1813, 20 avril 1816, 20 juill. 1829, 19 juin 1830; CE1-10, 19 juin 1775, 22 janv. 1781, 23 sept. 1799; CE1-59, 7 févr. 1809; CN1-23, 21 févr. 1838; CN1-68, 7 janv. 1818, 6 août 1822, 16 mars 1825; CN1-110, 14 déc. 1820; CN1-134, 20 janv. 1822; CN1-143, 18 févr. 1819, 31 déc. 1820, 2 août 1822, 14 juin 1824; CN1-167, 24 janv., 4 mars 1809; CN1-295, 24 mars 1814, 22 juin 1825, 25 oct. 1831; CN1-326, 3 mars 1824; CN1-384, 23 mai 1812; CN5-3, 19 janv., 2 déc. 1834. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 21 août 1860. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, B853.5/P662.97. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, ms, 1971, Rodrigue Bédard et al., “Catalogue des biens de la ferme Saint-Gabriel.” National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), Files 9977, 15381. Le Journal de Québec, 21 août 1860. Mariette Fréchette-Pineau, “L’église de Saint-Grégoire de Nicolet (1802)” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1970), 56–57. Harper, Early painters and engravers, 88–89. Olivier Maurault, La paroisse: histoire de l’église Notre-Dame de Montréal (2e éd., Montréal, 1957), 51. Morisset, Coup d’œil sur les arts, 37–38; Les églises et le trésor de Varennes (Québec, 1943), 17–21. Luc Noppen, Les églises du Québec (1600–1850) (Québec, 1977), 45, 212, 232–34, 272. J. R. Porter, L’art de la dorure au Québec du XVIIe siècle à nos jours (Québec, 1975), 81–82. Jean Bélisle, “Le retable de Saint-Grégoire de Nicolet et le problème de la contrainte architecturale dans les ensembles sculptés québécois,” Journal of Canadian Art Hist. (Montreal), 5 (1980), no.1: 18–32. François Cormier, “Le chandelier de monsieur Raimbault,” Les Cahiers nicolétains (Nicolet, Qué.), 2 (1980): 55–62; “Saint-Grégoire de Nicolet: une paroisse, une église (1637–1812)”: 105–89.