SASSEVILLE, FRANÇOIS, silversmith; b. 30 Jan. 1797 at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière, Que.), son of Joseph Sasseville, a canteen-keeper there, and Geneviève Roy; d. 28 Feb. 1864 at Quebec.
On 13 Nov. 1819 François Sasseville signed an agreement with Étienne Lajoie, a navigator of Baie-Saint-Paul, concerning a piece of land in Gaspé county; he was described in it as “a young man of full age, an apprentice silversmith in this city of Quebec,” but the word “apprentice” is crossed out, which might indicate he had just completed his time of service. Nothing else is known about him until 2 July 1839, when the descendants of silversmith Laurent Amiot* leased him the house of their father, who had died on 3 June. The lease stipulated that these descendants should “make over to the said Sieur Sasseville the whole shop as it had been left by their father, with any small quantity of silver that might remain, and including all ingredients and materials and articles peculiar to the silversmith’s art.” François Sasseville may have served his apprenticeship with his brother Joseph, who was seven years his senior and a silversmith at Quebec in 1811, but the lease of Laurent Amiot’s silversmith’s shop leaves no doubt as to the closeness of the ties he must have maintained with Amiot.
Several articles in Quebec newspapers during Sasseville’s active period, from 1839 to 1864, bring out different aspects of his work and career. Heir to Amiot’s clientele, Sasseville seems to have worked even more than did Amiot on religious objects. He had to compete therefore with French imports: in 1846, when he completed a storied ciborium, Le Journal de Québec mentioned that this was a work “which would do credit to the best European artists for the finished quality of the workmanship and the elegance of the form, and which is preferable by far to what usually comes to us from the other side of the Atlantic, because it is massive, durable, and honestly executed.” In 1850 this paper again mentioned that Sasseville “will make you a chalice, a ciborium, or a monstrance as richly chiselled as you desire, and you will not have the sorrow of seeing it, under a heavy and forgetful hand, sink down on its base, and break,” as did imported articles.
At the beginning of the 19th century mechanical devices such as the coining-press and the ram were introduced to silversmiths’ workshops. It then became possible to strike silver coins in the cold state, and rapidly and cheaply to produce complete articles or medallions decorated with storied scenes. This kind of silver work imported from France had found favour with the clergy and the parish councils. Sasseville produced works of simple decoration similar to those of Amiot, but also followed these French models. According to Le Journal de Québec of 17 Oct. 1850, he did not use mechanical processes; it is now known, however, that he did take advantage of these processes.
In October 1850 Sasseville and his nephew Pierre Lespérance, who had apprenticed under Laurence Amiot, won a prize for a chalice in the silver work section of the provincial industrial exhibition at Montreal. In Le Journal de Québec of 27 March 1858 a reporter mentions having seen “in the workshop of M. Sasseville, a Quebec silversmith, a superb monstrance of solid silver belonging to the cathedral, that M. Pierre Lespérance has just gilded by galvanoplasty.” This process of gilding by electrochemical deposit had been invented simultaneously in France and England in 1839, and its use at Quebec shows that Sasseville and Lespérance kept up with the advances of the industrial revolution. It is difficult today to state precisely to what extent Lespérance managed to practise his craft independently of Sasseville before the latter’s death in 1864.
In his will, Sasseville, a bachelor who had built up a small fortune, bequeathed the whole of his workshop to Pierre Lespérance, as well as 100 shares in the Banque du Peuple. He also bequeathed “to Ambroise Lafrance, if on the day of [his] death he was still [his] apprentice or employee . . . the sum of 100 piastres.”
Since he succeeded Laurent Amiot, who no doubt trained him, François Sasseville inherited Amiot’s clientele. It is therefore not surprising that several of his works scarcely differ in form or decoration from those of Amiot. The storied pieces, of which Sasseville was the proudest, were created to rival imports from France. All of his works, however, demonstrate the quality of his art. When he died, Pierre Lespérance continued the tradition, followed by Ambroise Lafrance, who died at the beginning of the 20th century and whose works again reflect the persistent influence of Laurent Amiot, and also that of François Sasseville.
[Many of François Sasseville’s works are held by the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Henry Birks Collection (Montreal), and by various parish councils. j.t.] ANQ-Q, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Québec, 5 nov. 1811, 20 déc. 1819, 2 mars 1864; Greffe d’Étienne Boudreault, 13 nov. 1819; Greffe d’A.-Archange Parent, 20 juin 1836, 2 juill. 1839; Greffe d’A.-B. Sirois Duplessis, 30 nov. 1863, 14 mars 1864. Archives judiciaires, Kamouraska (Rivière-du-Loup, Qué.), Registre d’état civil, Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, 15 janv. 1788, 15 avril 1790, 30 janv. 1797. IBC, Centre de documentation, Fonds Morisset, Dossiers Joseph Sasseville; François Sasseville; Pierre Lespérance. L’Ami de la religion et de la patrie (Québec), 25 août 1848. Le Journal de Québec, 20 juin 1843; 10 oct. 1846; 17, 22, 26 oct. 1850; 7, 14 juin 1853; 28 mars 1858, 1er, 5, 17 mars 1864. Luc Lanel, L’orfèvrerie (3e éd., Paris, 1964). J. E. Langdon, Canadian silversmiths, 1700–1900 (Toronto, 1966). Gérard Morisset, “Un chef-d’œuvre de François Sasseville,” Technique (Montréal), XVII (1942), 526–30; “Nos orfèvres canadiens, Pierre Lespérance (1819–1882),” Technique, XXII (1947), 201–9; “L’orfèvre François Sasseville,” La Patrie (Montréal), 4 juin 1950; “L’orfèvre François Sasseville,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XLIX (1955), sect.i, 51–54.