Louis Archambault

Louis Archambault

le grand pretre #1/6
Bronze, 1959
55.8 centimeters, 22 inches

Private collection, Ottawa, Ontario.

Image © Copyright Succession Louis Archambault / SODRAC (2015)

Bio: Louis ARCHAMBAULT  1915-2003

Works by the shy, innovative artist were shown abroad alongside Picasso and Moore
At the crossroads where choices between fame and love often intersect, Canadian sculptor Louis Archambault forged a path toward the desire of his heart. An innovator in the world of modern Canadian art, he is credited with bringing sculpture in Quebec out of the churches and into contemporary society.
A shy and aloof man, Mr. Archambault, who died of pneumonia on Jan. 27 at the age of 87, craved the love of his wife more than public accolades and recognition.
He is recognized today as the premier formalist of Canadian sculpture. The award-winning artist simplified form and moved away from traditional uses of wood and bronze. Well regarded internationally, his works have been displayed beside those of Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore, but within Quebec society he remained an outsider and an enigma.
In the postwar period when Quebec artists were at the forefront of the Quiet Revolution, Mr. Archambault was a solitary figure, and remembered by his contemporaries as being cold, distant and “British.” As a consequence, he remained largely unknown in his home province.
His severe and serene compositions are geometric, mystical and architectural. They often employ a balance between levity and weight and form and empty space. His wife, Mariette Provost, was his muse and the theme of many of his best works explored the merging of masculine and feminine principles coupled together harmoniously.
Born on April 4, 1915, Louis Archambault, the son of a lawyer, defied his family’s conservative expectations by enrolling at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal, where he received a degree in ceramics in 1939. While attending the art school, the introverted and withdrawn Mr. Archambault met Ms. Provost. They often shared a tram home together and a lifelong romance soon developed. The couple married in 194.
By the 1950s, Mr. Archambault was moving away from ceramics and investing more and more energy in sculpture. His first big break occurred in the 1951 international sculpture exhibition held in London, England, at Battersea Park, where his work was regarded as exceptionally innovative. From there, he went on to distinguish himself when he represented Canada at the Milan Triennale in 1954 and the Venice Biennale in 1956.
In the 1960s, he was commissioned to make sculptures for the airports in both Toronto and Ottawa, and in 1967 it looked like Mr. Archambault might become a dominant name in the world of art when he represented Canada at Expo 67 in Montreal. His work titled Un Grand Couple , which sat outside the sculpture pavilion, was stunning, and his Douze Personnages fared beautifully next to the works of Calder, Giacometti and Picasso, and garnered international praise for superb craftsmanship.
But Mr. Archambault never capitalized on his international reputation. Throughout his life, he supported himself and his family by teaching art at various art schools and universities in Montreal.
“The opinion of only one person really interested him,” his daughter-in-law, Françoise Archambault, recalled. “Mariette was everything to him, and his work was a testament of his love for her. But she was a great listener and not a very big talker. He would always inquire after Mariette’s opinion about his sculpture. Louis would create these beautiful works, and Mariette, being a woman of few words, would say something like, ‘That’s okay.’ But to Louis, an okay from Mariette meant more to him than the praise from critics and strangers.”
In his 1999 melancholy and meditative documentary, A la recherche de Louis Archambault , Quebec filmmaker Werner Volkmer provides an extraordinary portrait of the sculptor. Mr. Volkmer concentrates less on the art and more on the character of the man who created it. In the flesh, the 85-year-old Mr. Archambault is especially shy and seems to recede from the camera. The film, like its subject, reveals an artist who neither attempts to seduce nor please, but reveals a glimpse of a man who became more true to himself with age.
“It was in 1991 when I started filming Louis Archambault, three years after his beloved Mariette had passed away from cancer,” Mr. Volkmer said. “During the first years of shooting, there was a hint of bitterness in Louis. He felt that he hadn’t done enough to challenge his introverted perspective and promote himself during his lifetime. But after the 1993 exhibition of his Mystical Symbols at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, he seemed less concerned with what might have been and more accepting of the life he’d lived.”
The Mystical Symbols are towering minimalist works made of wood. They are awe-inspiring sculptures that resemble staircases that stretch to the stars and portals that open onto hidden worlds. Mr. Archambault drew his inspiration from Mariette after she returned to university to study philosophy in the 1980s. He became as fascinated with the metaphysical as his wife, and their philosophical meditations sparked a final surge of creativity in the aging Mr. Archambault.
Musée des beaux-arts curator Stephane Aquin recalls Mr. Archambault as an intense perfectionist: “He created from a plan and never varied from his vision. There was a surgical precision about his work that bordered on obsessive. While we were setting up the show, Archambault was constantly tinkering with the display. The works are colossal and very difficult to set up. But Louis would look at something and insist that it had to be moved a few inches to the left or the right. He didn’t care how many extra hours of work it might take. The end product had to match that vision that lived inside his head.”
Elegant in his mind and his manners, Mr. Archambault was always a gentleman: honest, loyal and authentic. In his sculpture, he sought out the spiritual, while in his heart he remained a purist. Near the end, he was a frail and soft-spoken man with thin white hair and a thin white beard. His voice was shaky but it was filled with a lifetime of love and admiration for his dear wife Mariette.
“Not a single day passes when I don’t think of her,” he said not long before his death. “Her presence is all around me, I feel her in my heart and I speak with her every day.”

Biography courtesy of:

M.J. Stone, The Globe and Mail Mar 29, 2003. p. F12 LOUIS ARCHAMBAULT 1915-2003: Quebec sculptor had his muse.

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© Copyright 2006. Lynda M. Shearer, The Canadian Art Group. All rights reserved

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