LEBLOND DE LATOUR, JACQUES, painter and wood-carver who taught at the school of arts and crafts at Saint-Joachim, parish priest of Baie-Saint-Paul; b. 14 Jan. 1671 at Bordeaux; d. 29 July 1715 at Baie-Saint-Paul.
His father, Antoine Leblond de Latour (b. c. 1630; d. 9 Dec. 1706) played a very important role in the artistic life of Bordeaux; in 1665 he was painter to the city hall of Bordeaux, in 1682 a member of the royal academy of painting in Paris, and in 1691 a founding member of the academy of painting and sculpture of Bordeaux (the only one outside Paris) and its first teacher; he was also a writer, having published in 1699 a Lettre du sieur Leblond de Latour à un de ses amis, contenant quelques instructions touchant la peinture. Jacques’ older brother, Marc-Antoine (1668–1744), succeeded his father in his functions as painter to the city hall of Bordeaux, holding this position from 1690 to 1742. His younger brother, Pierre, born in 1673, went to America at the beginning of the 18th century as engineer in ordinary to the king; in 1720 we meet him again, in Louisiana.
Jacques Leblond de Latour is believed to have arrived in New France on 24 May 1690 when he was 19. There are no documents giving any information about his artistic training at that time, but it may readily be supposed that he did his apprenticeship as a painter with his father. He must have been well acquainted also with woodcarving, since there were numerous cabinetmakers skilled in wood-carving at Bordeaux. Possibly his departure had been motivated by his brother Marc-Antoine’s appointment to his father’s office; the number of masterships in a craft was limited at that period, and it was traditionally the eldest son who succeeded his father.
It is difficult to determine the exact date of the founding of the school of arts and crafts at Saint-Joachim. The institution, which had been created by Jean Talon* and Bishop Laval, was linked with the founding of the Petit Séminaire of Quebec in 1668. This school was situated near the site of the first church at Saint-Joachim, more than 25 miles from Quebec: “Instruction is given there in woodworking, wood-carving, painting, gilding, church decoration, masonry, and carpentry. There are also stone-cutters, shoemakers, edge-tool makers, locksmiths, and roofers who teach their trades to the Canadian youth. . . .” This document, cited by Amédée Gosselin, dates from 1685, but by 1675 various artisans were arriving in Canada, including “Michel Fauchois, apprentice wood-carver, hired for four years,” and “Samuel Genner, a wood-carver, engaged for three years.” They obviously came to lend their help to the school which was being set up, since they were engaged by the seminary of Quebec. Bishop Saint-Vallier [LA Croix], who visited the premises in 1685, wrote: “My main concern at Cap-Tourmente was to examine, each one in turn, 31 children whom two ecclesiastics from the Seminary were bringing up, 19 of them being directed to studying, and the remainder to learning a trade.”
It was after Leblond de Latour’s arrival in 1690 that the school experienced its years of greatest success, years during which the chapel of the seminary of Quebec was built. Nothing remains of this chapel, which was destroyed by fire in 1701. However, Le Roy de La Potherie’s description gives us an idea of what it was like: “The wood carving in it, which is evaluated at 10,000 écus, is very beautiful; it was done by the members of the Seminary, who spared no expense to ensure that the work was perfect. The high altar is an architectural work in Corinthian style; the walls are covered with wainscoting and wood carving in which are set several large pictures. The decorations which go with them end up under the cornice of the severy vaulting, under which are diamond shaped compartments adorned by painted and gilded wood carvings.”
It is impossible to evaluate exactly Leblond de Latour’s share in the work on the chapel of the seminary and the retables at Château-Richer, Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, and Ange-Gardien. No piece of wood carving can be attributed to him with certainty. When considering what remains today of the work at Ange-Gardien and Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, it must be kept in mind that these were undertakings in which the pupils from the school and wood-carvers such as Denis Mallet, Charles Vézina*, and Pierre-Gabriel Le Prévost* participated.
The retable at Sainte-Anne de Beaupré was done around 1700 by the wood-carvers from the school at Saint-Joachim. The present-day commemorative chapel preserves what remains of it, including four pillars, a tabernacle, and two wooden statues representing St Magdalen and St John. A photo taken by Livernois in 1877 shows us the original lay-out of the retable before the church was demolished in 1878: one must refer to it to get an idea of the whole work, the architectural aspect of which was carefully worked out. The pillars, which are decorated at their base with garlands of flowers, enable us to link this work with that at Ange-Gardien, where similar pillars are to be found. The statues of St Magdalen and St John are by the same hand that did the two small angels of the Annunciation which decorate the tabernacle. The latter constitutes the principal feature of the whole work: even if it includes few outstanding decorative motifs, it strives for great architectural effect. In it are to be found various types of pillars, cornices, pediments, domes, balustrades, etc. Everything seems to be contrived to furnish an example of all the architectural elements which can enter into the composition of a tabernacle.
The retable at Ange-Gardien was much more richly decorated than that at Sainte-Anne de Beaupré; nevertheless, the same motifs are to be found in it. This retable, which was also done towards 1700, was altered several times prior to the burning of the church in 1931: at that time the parishioners saved most of it, and it was put back in the new church, where it remained until 1963. The high altar remains one of the most important pieces of wood carving in French Canada; much more elaborate than that at Sainte-Anne, it is also more subtle in its conception. Two large statues decorated the retable, those of St Michael and the Guardian Angel. They are of different workmanship from that of the statues at Sainte-Anne and seem to have been executed by a professional wood-carver who had been trained in Europe. On the other hand, the statuette which occupied the central niche of the high altar, a Virgin and Child, is certainly the work of a wood-carver who had received his training at Saint-Joachim: its stiffness and naïveté make it one of the most interesting pieces of wood-carving of this period.
Jacques Leblond de Latour took the ecclesiastical habit in 1696. He was not ordained a priest until 1706, and was appointed parish priest at Baie-Saint-Paul. There is little probability that he then continued to practise his craft as a woodcarver. But he was not only a wood-carver: his family background destined him to be a painter. Gérard Morisset attributes several works to him, among them a portrait of Bishop Laval which is preserved in the archbishop’s palace in Quebec, and a portrait of Bishop Saint-Vallier in the Hôpital Général of Quebec.
Archives municipales de Bordeaux, Registre des baptêmes de la cathédrale Saint-André. ASQ, mss, 6. IOA, Dossier Jacques Leblond. Marius Barbeau, Au cœur de Québec (Montréal, 1934). Amédée Gosselin, L’instruction au Canada sous le régime français (1635–1760) (Québec, 1911), 361–63. Jean Palardy, Les meubles anciens du Canada français (Paris, 1963), 369–71. Harper, Painting in Canada. Morisset, La peinture traditionnelle au C.f., 28–29. Charles Braquehaye, “Les peintres de l’hôtel de ville de Bordeaux,” Réunion des Sociétés des Beaux-Arts des Départements, XXII (1898), 902–54; XXIII (1899), 595–639. Gérard Morisset, “L’école des Arts et Métiers de Saint-Joachim,” SGCF Mémoires, XVI (1965), 67–73; “Généalogie et petite histoire, un maître-maçon d’autrefois, Claude Baillif,” SGCF Mémoires, XVI, 131–37.