ADRIEN HÉBERT, R.C.A.
MONTREAL HARBOUR, 1925
oil on canvas
signed and dated
32 ins x 40 ins; 81.3 cms x 101.6 cms
The Port of Montreal was among Adrien Hébert’s (1890-1967) favourite subjects and works from the period after his return from Paris in 1924 are among his greatest achievements. Here, Hébert uses as a backdrop the sunlit mass of a grain elevator. The building acts as a foil to the tangle of rigging on the various vessels anchored at this busy port. Solid shapes are set in contrast to the airy effects of steam and light and further contrast is established between the variety of colours and textures seen here. The artist renders an encyclopedia of materials - cement, steel, stone, textile, wood and water - each of which respond differently to the light reflecting off or penetrating through their respective surfaces. Interestingly, Hébert seems to have chosen a lull in human activity, astutely sensing that depicting the dockworkers in action amid an already dynamic scene might just be “de trop”. He wisely elects to de-emphasize their role here.
Interwoven diagonals of ropes, cables, chains, derricks, ladders, gangways, chutes and other devices form a vortex around the orangey-red central smokestack. But Hébert considerately provides a clever navigational device to escort us through his composition. Flashes of orangey-red act as way - finding beacons: the red ensign flag on the stern and keel in the foreground lead to the smokestack in the middle ground, which in turn directs us to the deep background with another stack in the distance. Using these markers, we slalom through the painting with both pleasure and ease.
Unlike many other painters of his generation who romanticized the traditional Québécois rural lifestyle, Hébert celebrated progress which he felt the port embodied (see lot 64). By 1923 Montreal was among the worlds largest grain-handling ports and the buildings that had been constructed to handle this volume were renowned. According to arkinetblog “the famous architect Le Corbusier, like other great modernists, marvelled at North American elevators in his book Vers une architecture, and mentioned Montreal’s elevator No. 2 (which is likely the one depicted in this lot) as an example.”
Yves Lacasse and John R. Porter (general eds.), A History of Art in Quebec, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Quebec, 2004, page 98 for a closely related work in the collection of the Musée du Québec.
Private Collection, Toronto