< RETURN TO SCULPTORS
In 1969 I had moved to Ottawa Ontario for personal reasons, which never bloomed, and I was left suspended there not knowing what to do next. The newspaper collection or clipping department of the National Gallery of Canada and my job as masseur in the Skyline Hotel is what kept me going.
I decided when my possible marriage was on hold that I would work nights and do research by day in and around the Capital. The newspaper clippings helped me to find artists that I had never heard about in my art schools. I used them as stepping-stones and went to visit the relatives or the sculptors themselves. That is how I got to learn about Emile, as he liked to be called.
A writer Colin Macdonald was working on biographies of Canadian Artists producing one volume after another. He mentioned Emile’s name and gave me his address in Cartierville P.Q.
It did not take long in interviews to learn more then Colin did on the difficult life this man had all the way from his childhood to his death.
There was one man who was working at raising funds to get the statue of Col. By executed in Ottawa with a limited budget to make matters even worse. The man’s name Howard Warner member of the Ottawa Historical society he worked for the Veteran’s Affairs Office in Ottawa and he also knew Hamilton MacCarthy and attended his 90 birthday. The contacts went through and Emile got the commission. I knew all along that he was the only sculptor left of the Old School who could do it.
Work progressed and before long the announcement of the unveiling was to take place by the Governor General of Canada in the little park behind the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. I was busy taking the photos and did not get to sit on the stand, which was Emile’s wish at the time.
More then getting the commission Brunet gave me a set of medals that his teacher did in France. Added to this a statue that I sold back to Quebec a few years ago. He treated me like a Royal member every time I visited Montreal. Our trip into town and the Cote de Niege Cemetery uncovered information not recorded till now.
His whole family had been in the monument business and he grew into it in a natural manner. His attending schools in Chicago and France are recorded in this story but most of all the way he worked to the finest detail and artistic manner.
Take the Musée de Quebec and the capitol he did so that not one seam could be detected. How the doors to the Musee fit perfectly even with the weight being a factor in the easy moving of all the mechanics. This is nothing to compare with the subjects he chose for his decoration.
It was not the first time he used Canadian content and themes native to this country. His first experience was with the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa when they did the exterior carvings.
Take another trip to the cemetery and see the artist at his best in the execution of Memorials for the rich and famous. His use of granite and bronze figures. The arches he did and the flowerbeds that grace the statues. All planned out to make them the beautiful places to visit.
I will not stop there but take you to Ste. Anne de Beau Pres where his work is everywhere. The Ste. Ursuline chapel, the College outside Quebec called Belleview College has a figure in front. Before long I saw other memorials while in transit to Ste. Anne.
Not only did I learn about the life of Emile but the life of other sculptors who lived and worked in Quebec most of their lives. I will get to them in time to tell their stories too.
So I will rewrite the story of Emile like it was originally so that I do not leave out one thing. It may seem academic but that is the way I was doing things years ago.
Emile Brunet was born in Huntingdon, P.Q. in 1899, and from that date until 1920 he attended, archbishop school, (Bilingual), the Art Gallery of Montreal, and the Monument National of Montreal. A school dedicated to the Arts.
As a young man he worked with his father who owned and operated a Monument business in Montreal on Cote de Niege Street.
In 1920, Emile went to Ottawa to help with the sculpting of the main block of the new Parliament Buildings. His influences on some of the panels on the exterior of that building came to light during one of many interviews when he expressed his first love for Canadian motives by way of animal and historical events. The pointing out of such a desire helped to influence other carvers on the job, Lionel Fosberry who did “St. George and the Dragon” and Coeur de Lion MacCarthy with his famous “Lion and Unicorn” entrance figures. There is a Canadian Indian on the opposite side.
From the many photographs I had already in my collection, Mr. Brunet pointed out the works he did at the time of his employ. He brought to mind the story of the bust of Sir John A. Macdonald.
Still a young man searching for more education he went off to Chicago to study at the Art Institute under the guidance of Lorado Taft. He stayed for a full year and a half studying drawing and painting in addition to sculpting. I know of the instructors like Vander Poel for anatomy and Charles Mulligan for sculpting.
The winning of a competition for the War Memorial at Longueuil, Quebec, was his first large commission in bronze. It was cast in France in the spring of 1924 and erected in front of the city hall just across the river from Montreal.
Another trip for me and plenty of surprises when I found memorials in churches as well by other artists.
I am sure that other competitors had never seen such a fine work of art to come from the hands of this inspiring artist. It was only a small indication of what was to unfold over the many years to come.
It is the figure of a Young Soldier with raised rifle in one hand and helmet in the other full of expression as he strides forward over the ground. Symbolic of the Young Men that gave their lives for the price of freedom.
In order to refine his craft he went further in his studies after he enrolled in the national superior Beaux Arts School of Paris.
With his professor “Boucher” of Falquere Atelier he took his day classes and at night with Mr. Bourdel of Grande Chaumiere. He would come home for three months of each year and graduated in 1927 with the highest diploma in the School and for any Canadian.
It was not long after his return that he gained his large commission for decorating the Musee de Quebec. The fourteen bas relief’s on the façade of the Musee depict Historical scenes and events in our Canadian History as follows, “Fishing”, “Fur Trading”, “Maple Sugar Making”, “Farming”, “Logging”, “Missionaries”, “Landing Immigrates”, “Buffalo Hunt”,” Jacque Cartier”,” Death of Wolfe”,” Death of Montcalm”,”Dollard”, “La Veredrye”, “The First Settlers”.
The capitol for the main entrance carries the same theme of history but it is made out of 10 and 20-ton blocks of granite. Emile sat down with me and talked about how he went about the design and construction so that not one join could be seen by standing down on the grounds of the building site.
The two large bronze doors weighing over five tons gave Mr. Brunet an opportunity to show his skill in depicting animals native to Canada. “The Young Bear” and Cubs.” ‘Canadian Moose”, “Otters”, “Elk with wolves” “Polar Bear”, “Beavers”, American Bison”, “Deer and a “Great white Whale”.
After the casting the doors were sent back to Canada and they fit so closely that all you have to do is push them slowly and they open freely. What a great deal of detail it takes to really do such fine work. I have tested the doors and seen all these works and agree with what he has told me to be true.
A World competition was held for the granting of the commission for the statue of “Sir Wilfred Laurier” on Parliament Hill in Ottawa with 64 entries submitted.
When such a competition is held in Canada all entries are instructed that their models are to be unsigned but accompanied by an envelope with their name and address only. At the time of judging the many models are put into a viewing room and judged. When a model is chosen the envelope is then opened and the winner is then known and chosen.
In the case of Emile Brunet, he entered two models for the same contest. One from his studio in Paris and the other from his studio in Montreal. The first prize was chosen with some reservations about the design of the pedestal, which would not be as easily accepted in the location they had chosen. The natural thing to do was to choose the second best model for consideration; it too was the model from Emile Brunet. This caused quite a commotion to the tune of a practical joke. A third envelope was chosen only to find that it was a Professor from the Academy of Rome as the designer.
Mr. E. Brunet had won first and second place over the other 63 entries from Canada, England, France and Italy.
For the next important work we have to travel to St. Boniface, Manitoba where the statue of Le Veredrye can be found. I have not seen the work but from photographs presented to me me an able to see the fine detail in the plaster model. The competition was open only to Canadians and seven or eight submitted their designs. Again Mr. Brunet won hands down. The Indian Scout shielding his eyes looks out for the path they are to take as Le Verendrye balances on a rock with musket in hand. Behind him stands a Missionary with cross and bible in hand.
In 1937 the Exposition of Paris took place and Canada opened a competition for the designing of the Pavilion. Seven Architects presented models in the judging Mr. Brunet took the prize. The 28 foot Buffalo” in front of the Canada Pavilion was very impressive as were the many panels on the outside of the structure. There were many paintings inside depicting the many aspects of our cultural background. Mr. Brunet was also responsible for the running show that took place for those visiting the exhibits.
During the Second World War little work in sculpting was undertaken in Canada and by 1948 Mr. Brunet was offered a commission to design twenty-four capitols for the Basilica at Ste. Anne de Beaupre, in Quebec. As subject matter Emile chose 52 religious subjects reflecting the life of Jesus. Add to this he also undertook the “Orders of the Cross” 14 in number that now line the walls of the Cathedral. Later he did statues of Ste. Anne and Saints at the entrance of the Cathedral carved in stone.
There is another work at Ste. Anne de Beaupre, that of the fountain in front of the Basilica which is the work of Brunet. From time to time they make many niches and you can see as you enter the church, “Marie de L’Incarnation”, “St. Joseph”, “The Virgin with Jesus”, “Msr Bishop Laval”, and “St. Joachim”, all of which are in stone and 7’ 6” high.
Montreal desired a memorial to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, which was to be erected in Dominion Square of that city. The Committee in charge of the erection chose the design that Brunet placed first in the World Competition. Mr. Brunet took me to the site one afternoon and patiently explained the details of it’s’ execution. I came away most impressed to know not only the exterior but the mechanics involved. All of the granite was done in his father’s yard as it is called in the profession.
When they designed the Quebec Parliament Buildings the designer specified and provided for some twenty-two statues, which would enhance the building. The Quebec Government started with the first large commission by giving P. Hebert a contract for ten of them.
Slowly year after year and artist after artist were asked to fill the remaining spots or niches. Brunet was fortunate enough to be granted the commissions for “Mgr. Bishop Laval”, “Margarite Bougerois”, “Olier” and “Mother Marie de L’Incarnation” completing the façade by 1965.
When you visit the Capital of Quebec take time to see these works along with the others. I have them all recorded and photographed with zoom lenses so I can see the details. It will take you a while to get the information as there are no directories to tell you who did what, when.
There is an “Indian Saint”, called “Kateri Tekakwitha”, a Sioux that Emile executed for South Dakota. It is in bronze, 6’ 4” high, cast in France and mounted on granite.
All of this work was finished before I met Brunet in 1969 for the first time. I knew his name only from the statue of Sir Wilfrid Laurier on the Hill I had come to the conclusion after looking in the National Gallery of Art I would not find him. He was never accepted by the R.C.A, as an Academician for there was no need of it he told me.
After the granting of the commission for Col By the engineer for the Rideau Canal and the unveiling in 1971 Brunet could say he was once again back on The Hill where he once stood in 1927 for the statue of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
All of the information written here has been uncovered over the past forty years by my contacts with the artist and Montreal informants. I am a thanking member of his family at this time to show my appreciation for their patience and co-operation.
I have not included all of the works that Brunet has done
I think it proper to leave out the memorials in the cemeteries at cote de Niege and other private commissions. They will be in my records just the same showing me how wide a swath this man took in his artistic life.
He let his life flow in front of me, as he knew life was such a precious thing to behold. His wife was so kind to me on many occasions putting up with the long interviews that we all knew that needed to be told as it was and meant to us all. I graciously thank everyone for his or her help. Without this I could not give back after forty years what is so precious to our culture.
Before I rewrite the story of Jean Emile Brunet I wish to make a comment about our relationship and how it grew into what you will read. It is not just the events and the fact that make up this man and his love of the Arts. If you try to find his record in the R.C.A. the O.S.A. or the M.A.A. you will not find much.
Jean Emile Brunet 1899 - 1977