MELOCHE, FRANÇOIS-ÉDOUARD (baptized François-Xavier-Édouard, also called Édouard and sometimes Edmond), painter and decorator, and teacher; b. 27 Dec. 1855 in Montreal, son of Charles Meloche, a clock maker, and Rose-Mathilde Bohle; m. there 7 Jan. 1882 Philomène-Lumina Lemoine; they had two daughters, who died in infancy, and one son, and they apparently also adopted two children; d. there 15 Aug. 1914.
François-Édouard Meloche spent his early childhood in comfortable circumstances living at the home of his grandfather, the silversmith Peter Bohle, who was his father’s employer. From 1865 to March 1871 Meloche did his classical studies up to the sixth year (Rhetoric) with the Jesuits at the Collège Sainte-Marie in Montreal, except for 1866–67, when he was at the Collège de L’Assomption. During the same period he received free artistic training from Napoléon Bourassa, who instructed him in architecture, sculpture, and painting. It is possible that he later attended the art school of Abbé Joseph Chabert*.
His father’s lengthy illness, however, put an end to the hopes held out for this son “destined for the highest honours.” Reduced to dire financial straits, the family depended on young François-Édouard for survival. He had to work after class at all kinds of decorating jobs, designing embroidery for women’s coats, doing oil portraits, drawing sketches for newspapers, painting banners for processions, making plaster statues, and even selling newspapers on Rue Sainte-Catherine.
On the other hand, between 1875 and 1882, Meloche was able to participate in a large-scale project, the decoration of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes chapel in Montreal, under Bourassa’s direction. It was his most important school, enabling him to serve his apprenticeship as a painter, at the same time, incidentally, as Louis-Philippe Hébert. Meloche not only acquired a trade, but began to gain a reputation and received his first large orders. For the next 20 years and more, he would enjoy a prosperous professional life, thanks to his talent and to the fashion of painted interiors in churches.
In 1881 Meloche began his career as a muralist in earnest, decorating seven churches in the region of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. He also painted murals for churches on Île Jésus, in the foothills of the Laurentians, in the Richelieu valley, and on the island of Montreal, as well as in the regions of Trois-Rivières, Quebec, and the lower St Lawrence. His reputation even took him to Vermont, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. In Prince Edward Island his most complete work was the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Palmer Road, for which he drew up the plans and did the interior painting. Meloche in all left some 40 décors done in encaustic according to the method of François-Édouard Picot and Hippolyte Flandrin. The most important church decorations still in existence are those of Saint-Michel in Vaudreuil, Notre-Dame-de-la-Visitation in Champlain, Saint-Philippe in Saint-Philippe-d’Argenteuil (Saint-Philippe), and Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville. Meloche won contests in Quebec and a prestigious prize – a medal at the 1893 Columbian exposition in Chicago – for drawings and architectural plans.
In addition to working as a muralist, from 1886 to 1899 Meloche taught decorative painting at the school run by the Council of Arts and Manufactures of the Province of Quebec in Montreal. He initiated these courses himself after sending a proposal to the council’s secretary, Samuel Cottingham Stevenson. His lessons came to be much in demand, and as many as 37 people enrolled in each class. Besides taking his inspiration from copies of models suggested in books by Michel Liénard and Godefroid Umé, Meloche used the teaching methods he had learned from Bourassa. In fact, he obtained permission to work with his students in decorating the old St Gabriel Street Church in Montreal. Among those who studied with him’ were Napoléon Saint-Charles, the architect N. Resther, and Joseph-Charles Franchère, who took over his teaching duties on 13 Dec. 1899. Meloche then served on the council’s board and inspected classes that it sponsored in the various disciplines on the island of Montreal. After November 1902, however, his name disappears from its registers and nothing more is heard of him. The sculptor Alfred Laliberté* noted that Meloche “was beginning to neglect his work and his business, leading a life of disorder, and has fallen as low as one can.” His death, which occurred on 15 Aug. 1914, passed unnoticed.
François-Édouard Meloche excelled at creating architectural ornaments. In the field of painting most of his scenes were copied directly from examples in the illustrated Bible published between 1852 and 1860 by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, a German artist important in the Nazarene movement. His church décors were like a series of small sacred images enlarged on the walls in pink and blue tones or simply in grisaille. He was a disciple of Napoléon Bourassa who followed his aesthetic principles but whom the master did not deign to recognize. Despite the medal he won in Chicago, Meloche remained in the shadow of Bourassa, who bestowed his favour instead on the great sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert.
The author’s thesis, “François-Édouard Meloche (1855–1914), muraliste et professeur, et le décor de l’église Notre-Dame-de-la-Visitation de Champlain” (thèse de ma, univ. Concordia, Montréal, 1989), provides a more complete bibliography, with numerous references to archival sources.
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Montréal), 17 août 1914. ANQ-M, CE1-33, 7 janv. 1882; CE1–51, 28 déc. 1855. Émile Falardeau”Artistes de chez-nous: François-Édouard Meloche,” La Liberté (Montréal), 18 juin 1966: 27. La Presse, 25 avril 1932. Rodrigue Bédard, “Napoléon Bourassa et l’enseignement des arts au XIXe siècle” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1979). P. Dupuy, “F. Ed. Meloche,” Canada-Revue (Montréal), 2 (1891): 20–21 (includes a photo of Meloche). Anastase Forget, Histoire du collège de L’Assomption; 1833 – un siècle – 1933 (Montréal, ), 569. Alfred Laliberté, Les artistes de mon temps, Odette Legendre, édit. (Montréal, 1986), 56–57, 138. H. M. S. Smith, The historic churches of Prince Edward Island (Erin, Ont., 1986), 93.