Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté
1869 - 1937
“It is the air the artist must paint." Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté
Born in the small Quebec village of Arthabaska (now part of greater Victoriaville), Suzor-Coté’s talent was noted early and he was sent to Paris to study with Léon Bonnat in preparation for entry to the Ècole des beaux-arts in 1891. Within three years his work would hang in the Salon, a remarkable achievement for a young, foreign painter. Returning to Canada in 1894 he set up a studio in Montreal, producing landscapes and portraits in oil and pastel. A master of still life and interior scenes, he held open houses and entertained in his studio, building an important clientele.
He returned to Paris in 1897, living in a variety of locations, sharing a studio with sculptor André de Manneville, and socializing with Parisian Canadians. He studied at the Julian and Colarossi academies and at private studios, and was taught by Jules-Joseph Lefebvre, known for his allegorical nudes, and Benjamin-Constant, who taught him the technique of the coloured ground. Included the Salon from 1898 until 1906, he received an honourable mention in 1901. He showed at the World Fair’s Canadian pavilion in 1900, and in 1903 the National Gallery of Canada purchased three works
Suzor-Coté returned home to Arthabaska in 1907 a successful painter. He exhibited in Montreal and Winnipeg, with the Ontario Society of Artists, in a show of Canadian art in Liverpool, and at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1913. In 1909, his commissioned portrait of Sir Wilfred Laurier, sadly later destroyed, was the first of many official works. A full member of the RCA in 1914, his diploma piece, A Corner of My Village, Arthabaska, sums up his work in its title. Although he was a celebrity painter, the landscape and people of his home village were his enduring interest. Exhibiting regularly with Scott and Sons in Montreal, he also showed work at the Canadian Art Club in Toronto and with the Art Association of Montreal, winning the Jessie Dow Prize in 1914 and 1925.
Suzor-Coté’s delicate handling of dappled light gives his works a jewel-like quality. He painted a remarkable number of winter scenes. In portraiture and interior scenes he would often return to poignant themes such as a parent keeping vigil over an ailing child, or the character of an aged face. He received commissions for historical scenes including the important The Death of Montcalm, and Jacques Cartier Meeting the Indians at Stadacona. He had begun to work in lithography and sculpture as early as 1907, producing a number of significant bronze works including Caughnawaga Women, a landmark in Canadian art.
In 1915 he began to show female nude studies in pastel and oil. In Paris, Suzor-Coté had studied from the life model, but Canada, particularly French Canada, was not as accepting of this part of an artist’s oeuvre. His success in other genres smoothed the road for these works which occupied the latter part of his career. In 1924 he was included in the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, England. With success at home and abroad, he was one of Canada’s most renowned living artists.
In 1927, he suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed and would seriously slow his prolific output. With the help of his brother and a nurse - who would later become his wife - he would show at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and Watson Galleries in Montreal that same year. A major retrospective was held in 1929 at the Ècole des beaux-arts in Montreal, and in 1933 the new Quebec Provincial Museum opened with a room dedicated to Quebec art, largely that of Suzor-Coté. He died in 1937, spending his declining years in Cuba and Florida.
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