- Pauline Boutal: An Artist’s Destiny by Louise Duguay
Given the scarcity of art historical scholarship on Manitoba art, there is reason to celebrate the appearance of this groundbreaking work on Boutal (1894–1992), the most important Franco-Manitoban artist of the mid-twentieth century. For this, we owe a debt to Louise Duguay.
Duguay teaches communication studies at Université St. Boniface. Her training is in that field, but she has a very good understanding of art history. Duguay has left no stone un-turned in her research. She includes reproductions of works throughout North America and has combed through extensive archival material, recreating a lost world. The book is well written, well translated, and well designed (by Susan Chafe).
As director-designer for Le Circle Molière, a theater group founded in 1925, Boutal was a key cultural figure in St. Boniface during a difficult time in the history of the province’s francophone community.
Despite the fact that working for a living illustrating the Eaton’s catalogue, family responsibilities, and her community theater work took time away from her vocation, Boutal managed to produce a remarkable oeuvre. She was trained professionally at the Winnipeg School of Art, where she benefited from a strong tradition of drawing established by long-time director Lyonel LeMoine Fitz-Gerald, one of the greatest Canadian artists. He was not an exceptional portraitist, however, and Boutal was just that: there was no artist on the Canadian Prairies at the time who could match her skill in this regard. While [End Page 337] not experimental, her work is modern in both its economy of means and its directness. This achievement is hers and hers alone.
Her genre scenes, particularly those executed in oil after World War II, are less impressive, reflecting the infelicitous effects of further training at the Cape School of Art in Province-town (1946) and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris (1949). With important exceptions, the result of this late education was an adaptation to the “Paris School” style of flat, sometimes characterless cityscapes. This is too bad, because it is after her return from Paris that Boutal turns her attention to cityscapes, and given the predominance of abstraction in post-1950 Winnipeg, not many truly good artists were turning their attention toward the city. She did not have to be an avant-garde artist to make a mark. She just had to let her talent with graphite and pastels shine through: so much for postgraduate training at prestigious foreign art schools. But no matter, Duguay has shown us what a truly important artist Boutal was, and we can only hope that her efforts result in the due recognition of this important Canadian cultural figure.