MARION, SALOMON (baptized Charles, he was occasionally known as Pierre-Charles-Salomon; although he is named Lafontaine, dit Marion, on his marriage certificate and elsewhere is sometimes called Marion, dit Lafontaine, he signed Salomon Marion), gold- and silversmith and jeweller; b. 5 Feb. 1782 in Lachenaie, Que., son of Michel Marion and Marie-Charlotte Foisy; d. 31 Oct. 1830 in Montreal.
Salomon Marion was apprenticed to Pierre Huguet*, dit Latour, a Montreal merchant silversmith, in 1798. In Latour’s large workshop he worked alongside silversmiths Faustin Gigeon, François Blache, and Paul Morand*. His contract was to end in February 1803, on his 21st birthday. In October 1804, when he rented a house on Rue du Saint-Sacrement in Montreal, he termed himself a master silversmith. In May of that year Marion had signed a one-year contract with merchant Dominique Rousseau; he was to practise his craft and receive half the net profit, while Rousseau was to supply the shop and tools, and “sufficient silversmithing work to keep him employed.” Given Rousseau’s interest in the fur trade, presumably the objects made under this contract were mainly articles of trade silver.
That Marion’s status was rising is indicated by the very different contract he concluded with his former master in June 1810. Marion was authorized to work at home, but only on “chains for lamps and censers and chain holders”; for the purposes of the contract he was to use Huguet’s workshop with Huguet undertaking to supply “the silver, charcoal, and tools.” The workmen required were the responsibility of Marion, who in addition was himself to work “regularly at least four days a week.” Such were the terms on which he signed a one-year contract to make at least 27 major pieces of church silver, some elaborately decorated, for 2,568 livres. Marion had already delivered several of the same sort of objects to Huguet even before the contract was signed. This fact probably explains why the document specifies in such detail all the steps and manufacturing techniques, prices, and working conditions. A clause giving Huguet exclusive rights clearly shows his hold on Marion, who “may not make in his home or have made there or elsewhere any piece of silver for the churches, for any other person whomsoever.” It is thus easy to understand why a number of objects bearing the mark PH are so much like Marion’s as to be mistaken for them.
In 1813 Marion became godfather to the eldest son of silversmith William Delisle, probably as the result of a friendship of some years’ standing, if not of professional relations. In 1816 he published an advertisement in Le Spectateur canadien to inform “his friends and the public that he proposed to practise his silversmith’s trade on a broader scale than previously, namely in all its branches.” To the articles of church silver that he was already making he added “Items for the table in the best taste, jewellery, gilt ornaments, engravings, and a whole host of other articles.” This advertising undoubtedly marked Marion’s professional emancipation. He may well have been employing Hugh McQuarters, a clock and watch maker who in 1815 was living in his house. In any case, in 1817 his order book was sufficiently well filled for him to take on as an apprentice 12-year-old Hilaire Seguin, who helped him until he came of age. From 1818 the fabriques became regular customers of Marion’s. Around this period he did the statue of the Virgin for the church of Verchères that is held in the National Gallery of Canada. The only surviving sculpture in the round by an early Canadian silversmith, it has a virtuosity and an aesthetic quality that make it an indisputable masterpiece of the colony’s art.
In October 1817 Marion had married Sophie Lafrenière, a widow; silversmiths Joseph Normandeau and Paul Morand attended the ceremony. In 1819 he was present in turn at the wedding of silversmith Joseph Auclair, who was marrying Mme Marion’s sister; silversmith Nathan Starns was there as well. That year Marion was given power of attorney for François Loran, “officer in the Indian Department, living at St-François,” which was a busy centre for the production and exchange of trade silver. In 1822 he took on a new apprentice, 14-year-old Jean-Baptiste Guimont. His last apprentice, André-Zéphirin Grothé, son of silversmith Christian Grothé, was taken on in 1826 for a period of four years.
Marion’s talent gained general recognition in 1826 with the publication in the Canadian Spectator of an article which remarked: “We recommend that those who are interested in the progress of the arts in this country, and particularly in the success of their compatriots in this field, visit the shop of Mr Marion, a silversmith in this town. There they will see a piece of his own creation that merits the attention of connoisseurs and that cannot fail to be admired by all persons of taste. It is a silver church lamp. Garlands of leaves, flowers, and fruit in relief form the decorations. Heads of winged angels conceal the first links of the chain that carries the lamp. The whole piece is most beautiful.”
Marion died suddenly on 31 Oct. 1830. On several occasions in March and April 1831 Mme Marion published an advertisement in La Minerve announcing: “All orders for any church work or silverplate entrusted to her will be carried out as usual, and at very reasonable prices. She still has in hand a quantity of works of the specialty mentioned above and other pieces of silverware done by the late Mr Marion.” She was, then, liquidating the stock in the shop. The question remains whether she really had new items made. If so, unless she practised the craft herself, she must have relied on the help of some silversmith, possibly André-Zéphirin Grothé, whose training was finished. His work had indeed been strongly influenced by his master’s, yet was not of the same quality. Whatever transpired, Mme Marion moved, first to the home of Mme Millette and then to the house previously occupied by silversmith Joseph Normandeau. She remarried in 1832 and again in 1834. It is not known whether she then continued to carry on her silversmithing business. By her will drawn up in November 1830, she bequeathed to her sister, the wife of Joseph Auclair, all the silversmithing tools in her possession.
Salomon Marion’s obituary in La Minerve suggests that he had had many close friendships: “His premature loss casts into mourning his numerous friends, who will long regret him.” The Quebec Gazette of 4 Nov. 1830 made laudatory comments on his career: “He had acquired a deserved renown in his art.” The numerous and splendid objects he had created reveal a productive and conscientious craftsman. His style shows an innate understanding of form, a refined sense of decoration, and a meticulous technique. His is the achievement of an aesthete and poet, comparable to that of François Ranvoyzé* in creativity and inspired craftsmanship. It unquestionably deserves to be better known.
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 19 juin, 20 oct. 1817; 24 mai 1818; 28 juin 1819; 3 nov. 1830; 3 mars, 9 août 1832; CN1-121, 28 mai 1804; CN1-128, 30 mars 1795, 25 sept. 1797, 23 juill. 1798, 28 avril 1802; CN1-134, 20 janv. 1817, 6 sept. 1822, 7 juill. 1828, 23 nov. 1830, 18 mars 1834; CN1-243, 13 oct. 1804, 14 juin 1810, 3 sept. 1819; CN1-295, 16 août 1813, 9 févr. 1815; CN1-348, 6 nov. 1826. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, dossier A.-Z. Grothé, Christian Grothé, Salomon Marion. Canadian Spectator (Montreal), 13, 27 May, 3, 10, 17, 24 June, 1, 8, 15, 29 July, 5, 12, 19, 26 Aug., 9 Sept. 1816; 31 July 1824; 10 June 1826. La Minerve, 1er nov. 1830; 10, 14, 17, 21, 28, 31 mars, 7 avril 1831. Montreal Gazette, 1 April 1811; 27 Nov., 4, 11 Dec. 1815. Montreal directory, 1819–20. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 5: 517. Robert Derome, “Delezenne, les orfèvres, l’orfèvrerie, 1740–1790” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1974); “Gérard Morisset et l’orfèvrerie, “À la découverte du patrimoine avec Gérard Morisset (Québec, 1981), 205–20. Gérard Morisset, Le Cap-Santé, ses églises et son trésor, C. Beauregard et al., édit. (2e éd., Montréal, 1980); Évolution d’une pièce d’argenterie (Québec, 1943). Ramsay Traquair, The old silver of Quebec (Toronto, 1940). Journal of Canadian Art Hist. (Montreal), 5 (1980), no.1: 69–74. Jean Trudel, “Étude sur une statue en argent de Salomon Marion,” National Gallery of Canada, Bull. (Ottawa), 21 (1973): 3–19.