Jean-Philippe Dallaire, painter, illustrator and professor (born 9 June 1916 in Hull, Québec; died 27 November 1965 in Vence, France). He is known chiefly for his festive images of a world of shapes and colours in which the real and the imaginary intertwine.
Childhood and Education
Dallaire’s father was a labourer; his mother devoted herself to her 11 children. Jean-Philippe began drawing when he was 11 years old. Although he took some courses in drawing at the École Technique in Hull and at Central Technical School in Toronto, he was essentially self-taught. He painted his first canvas, Nature morte (Still Life), in 1933.
In 1936, Dallaire met Father Georges-Henri Lévesque, who offered him a studio and room and board at the Dominican Convent in Ottawa. There Dallaire painted several religious paintings, as well as a mural. After a short stint at the École des beaux-arts (School of Fine Arts) in Montréal, Dallaire received a scholarship from the Québec government and realized his dream of going to study art in Paris. In September 1938, he went to Paris again with his young wife, Marie-Thérèse Ayotte. He completed his training in Paris in 1939 and 1940 at the Studios of Sacred Art of Maurice Denis and Georges Desvallières and the André Lhote Academy. Stimulated by the Parisian ambience, Dallaire painted and lived in a one-room studio at 31, rue de Vaugirard.
In Paris, Jean-Philippe Dallaire discovered the works of Picasso and the Surrealists and met Alfred Pellan. Dallaire quickly came to see himself as an artist of international stature and did not attempt to ally himself with any particular school or trend in the art world. In a letter to a friend back in Hull (the sculptor Henri Heyendal), dated 1 May 1940, Dallaire wrote about the importance of influences in art:
… I want to tell you a bit about my work in Paris. You know that for the first few days after a Canadian arrives in Paris, he feels completely disoriented, because you can see so many exhibits in Paris that you become more and more influenced. And you can draw on all these influences to make endless progress. Since I arrived, I have tried Cubism, abstraction, realism, and then Cubism again. You shouldn’t be afraid of being influenced. The mistake that Canadians make is to want a Canadian form of painting.
During the German occupation (1940–44), Dallaire was held in Saint-Denis, an internment camp near Paris, where he continued to draw. In the autumn of 1945, he returned to Canada with his wife and their son, Michel. Dallaire taught drawing and painting at the École des beaux-arts (School of Fine Arts) in Québec City from 1946 to 1952. The year 1947 was an important one in his career. An exhibition of his works at the Cercle universitaire de Montréal from 3 to 17 May that year was a success and earned him recognition at last. In 1949, having developed a strong interest in the art of tapestry, he did an apprenticeship with the great French tapestry artist Jean Lurçat in Aubusson, France, and visited the renowned Gobelins tapestry factory in Paris. From 1952 to 1957, Dallaire worked as an illustrator on animated and educational films produced by the National Film Board, first in Ottawa and then in Montréal.
In 1957, Dallaire participated in the Second Biennial of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa. He also worked in a studio in Ville St-Laurent, Québec until he moved to France for good in 1958, leaving his family and friends behind to devote himself entirely to painting. Living in Vence, on the French Riviera, he painted frenetically. His works were shown at the Galerie Les Mages in Vence and the Galerie Dresdner in Montréal. After a serious illness that lasted several years, he died in Vence on 27 November 1965. His brilliant career as a painter and artist thus came to a premature end.
Dallaire’s works reflect a variety of stylistic influences and are still highly regarded for their fine draftsmanship, their spontaneity in the choice and treatment of subjects, and their use of colour. In a biography of the artist, entitled Le cyclope et l’oiseau (2001), Québec art critic René Viau writes:
A solitary and resolutely independent artist, Dallaire avails himself of current trends only to play his own music and let his own voice be better heard. But he combines these basic “French qualities” with a fantastic, imaginative energy manifested in his use of humour and caricature, his embrace of naïve art and children’s drawings, and his often cheerful irony through which a sense of tragedy still shows through — all these things are what make him who he is.
The Canadian public became familiar with Dallaire through several exhibitions. The first retrospective of his work was mounted by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and the Musée du Québec (now the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec) in 1968. Another retrospective was organized by Canadian art historian Jean-René Ostiguy (1925–2016) and then presented by the City of Hull, Québec in 1989. In 1999, the Musée du Québec organized a major retrospective with the simple title Dallaire and published an extensive catalogue demonstrating the artist’s tremendous talent. From 2005 to 2008, the City of Gatineau (formerly Hull), Québec and its municipal gallery organized the travelling exhibition Dallaire, Illustrateurs, Extraits des séries historiques. Lastly, in 2016, the exhibition Hommage à Dallaire : Que la fête commence! was presented at the Montcalm gallery of the Maison du Citoyen in Gatineau, to mark the centenary of the birth of Dallaire, its native son. This exhibition also included some youthful works by Dallaire’s son, François, whom his father allowed to paint in his studio when he was a child. A catalogue raisonné that will document more than 2,000 of Dallaire’s works is in preparation as of this writing.