LEVASSEUR, PIERRE-NOËL (baptized Noël), wood-carver, surveyor; b. 28 Nov. 1690 at Quebec, son of Pierre Levasseur, a master carpenter, and Madeleine Chapeau; d. 12 Aug. 1770, and was buried the next day at Quebec.
Pierre-Noël Levasseur belonged to the great family of craftsmen in wood which left its particular stamp on artistic production in Canada in the 18th century. Two great lines, descended from the brothers Jean* and Pierre Levasseur*, constituted this dynasty. Pierre-Noël Levasseur, a grandson of Pierre, was one of its principal representatives. On the other side, Jean Levasseur’s descendants included famous people such as Noël Levasseur* and his two sons, François-Noël Levasseur* and Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Levasseur*, dit Delor.
No apprentice’s diploma in the name of Pierre-Noël Levasseur has been discovered. He probably learned the basic elements of his craft working either with his father or with Noël, a distant cousin, who was already a master-carver in Quebec when Pierre-Noël reached the age of apprenticeship. On the other hand, towards 1705 the École des Arts et Métiers at Saint-Joachim was enjoying a profitable period under the administration of Abbé Louis Soumande*. It is therefore possible that Pierre-Noël received some instruction at that school.
Several parish archives furnish information about this wood-carver’s career. The references are, however, too often concerned with pieces of work that have been destroyed or misplaced, and it is difficult to get an overall picture of Levasseur’s production. In 1723 he was living in the Montreal region – on 3 March of that year he had his son Charles baptized in the church of L’Enfant-Jésus-de-Pointe-aux-Trembles. In addition, the account books of the church of Sainte-Famille-de-Boucherville permit us to date Levasseur’s earliest piece of work from 1723: on 18 July he signed a contract before the notary Marten Tailhandier* to make a retable for that church. A little later he did some work at Varennes for the church of Sainte-Anne, including “the main door.”
Levasseur returned to the Quebec region near the end of the 1720s. We can attribute to him the retable of the Ursuline chapel (1730–36), one of the major pieces of carving in French Canada. 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 painting depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds and by an aedicule, topped with an arched fronton, which contains a statue of St Joseph holding the infant Jesus. Into the right and left panels are incorporated the sacristy doors, which are surmounted by niches containing statues of St Ursula 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 [see Noel Levasseur]. 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.
Levasseur’s name is mentioned on 7 March 1746 in the deliberations and decisions of the Conseil Supérieur in connection with a lawsuit concerning various wood-carving jobs on ships: “the council has reduced the Sieur Levasseur’s memorandum of costs to the sum of 1,362 livres for the works done by him for the ships Imprévue, Saint-Louis, Union, Centaure, Expérience, Astrée.” The date of this lawsuit and the time required for building each of these ships permit the placing of these works in the period 1730–44. On 31 May 1737, thanks to his “talent and experience,” he obtained a commission as royal surveyor and geometrician in the government of Quebec. Unfortunately, nothing is known about Levasseur’s career as a surveyor, but it is certain that after the conquest he was still practising this profession.
Towards 1742 he completed pieces of carving for parish councils in the Quebec region. His name is mentioned in 1742 and 1743 in the account books of the parish of Saint-Charles-de-Charlesbourg, where he carved two statues representing St Peter and St Paul. The parish still has its carvings, which are typical of traditional Quebec wood-carving. The curved line, an important characteristic of baroque art, appears with a certain vigour in the draping of the garments and the movement of the subjects. These carvings give an impression of strength and lightness of touch worthy of the best Quebec tradition. The last known reference of importance to Levasseur’s artistic production comes from the registry of the notary Jean-Antoine Saillant in Quebec. It concerns a contract drawn up on 29 Nov. 1750 engaging Pierre-Noël Levasseur to carve and have gilded a tabernacle, a retable, and a baldachin for a confraternity called the Congrégation de l’Immaculée-Conception de Notre-Dame.
On 7 Jan. 1719, in Quebec, Pierre-Noël Levasseur had married Marie-Agnes Lajoue, daughter of François de Lajoüe*, architect, contractor, and engineer. The marriage contract had been signed in Quebec on 21 Nov. 1718 before the notary Florent de La Cetière*. Three of their sons carried on this line of wood-carvers: the eldest, Pierre-Noël, studied wood-carving in France at Rochefort; Charles and Stanislas worked with their father, one at the church of Charlesbourg, the other at the former church of Saint-Vallier.
AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Québec, 28 nov. 1690, 13 août 1770. ANQ, Greffe de Florent de La Cetière, 21 nov. 1718; Greffe de J.-A. Saillant, 29 nov. 1750; NF, Ord. int., 31 mai 1737; NF, Registres du Cons. sup., 7 mars 1746; QBC, Cours de justice, Conseil militaire de Québec, 6 juin 1761. ANQ-M, Greffe de Marien Tailhandier, dit La Beaume, 18 juill. 1723. Archives paroissiales de Saint-Charles (Charlesbourg, Qué.), livres de comptes, I, 1675–1749. Archives paroissiales de Sainte-Anne (Varennes, Qué.), livres de comptes, I, 1725–1729. IOA, Dossier Pierre-Noël Levasseur, sculpteur. “Pour servir à l’histoire de la sculpture religieuse au Canada,” BRH, XXXIII (1927), 367–68. “Recensement de Québec, 1744” (APQ Rapport). Tanguay, Dictionnaire.
Marius Barbeau, J’ai vu Québec (Québec, 1957). Gérard Morisset, L’architecture en Nouvelle-France (Québec, 1949); Coup d’oeil sur les arts. Musée du Québec, Sculpture traditionnelle du Québec (Québec, 1967), 64. Charles Trudelle, Paroisse de Charlesbourg (Québec, 1887). 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 dynastie d’artisans: les Levasseur,” La Patrie (Montréal), 8 janv. 1950; “Pierre-Noël Levasseur (1690–1770),” La Patrie, 9 nov. 1952.
Revisions based on:
Arch. du Monastère des Ursulines (Québec), MQ/1E/1/9, 4, 4.1 (Construction contract between the Ursulines and Pierre-Noël Levasseur for the building of the retable of the high altar and the balustrade, 13 June 1730). Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 7 janv. 1719. F.-M. Gagnon, “Trudel, Jean, Un chef-d’œuvre de l’art ancien du Québec ... [compte rendu],” RHAF, 27 (1973–1974): 118–19. Jean Trudel, La chapelle des ursulines de Québec (Québec, 2005); Un chef-d’œuvre de l’art ancien du Québec: la chapelle des ursulines (Québec, 1972).