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 Joseph Chabert  (1831 - 1894)

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Lived/Active: Quebec / Canada/France      Known for: teaching, still life and portrait painting, sculpture

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Ad Code: 4
Joseph Chabert
Still Life with White Rabbit – watercolor and pencil (c.1865)
Courtesy Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
CHABERT, JOSEPH, Roman Catholic clergyman and art teacher; b. 3 June 1831 in Lauris, France, son of Francois Chabert and Marguerite Thomassin; d. 29 March 1894 in Longue-Pointe (Montreal).

The son of a farmer, Joseph Chabert is believed to have studied for three years at the Ecole Imperiale des Beaux-Arts in Paris before pursuing a vocation in the church. In 1861 he entered the Congregation de Sainte-Croix at Le Mans.  He was tonsured the following year, but left the community in 1864.

In the spring of 1865, drawn to the work of evangelization, Chabert, by now a sub deacon, joined a group of missionaries recruited by Bishop Henri Faraud for his vicariate apostolic of Athabasca-Mackenzie in Rupert's Land.  However, illness forced Chabert to abandon the project and he went instead to the Petit Seminaire de Sainte-Therese in Lower Canada, where he redesigned the art course.  He is thought to have done the same at the College Masson in Terrebonne and to have been in charge of teaching art at the College of Ottawa in 1865-66. In 1866 he founded his own art school in Ottawa. Accused in 1867 of being too elitist in his objectives, he changed his focus and from then on devoted himself to practical instruction in art and to the advancement of the working class.

Chabert may have been influenced to take this new direction by Napoleon Bourassa, who was calling for a practical approach to education in the fine arts in Montreal, a city which was expanding rapidly in both population and industry.  The growing industrialization required a work-force with some knowledge of the arts and sciences as applied to industry.  As these were auspicious circumstances for Chabert's educational work, he moved to Montreal at the end of 1870.  The following January, through the help of some benefactors, including industrialist Jean-Baptiste Prat, he was able to open for working people, without charge, the Institut National des Beaux-Arts, Sciences, Arts et Metiers et Industrie.  The establishment operated from 1871 until about 1877, and again during the first semester of 1883; among its many teachers was engraver Rodolphe Bresdin.  When it reopened from 1885 to 1887, Chabert turned his attention once again to teaching fine art.  In 1886 his efforts were crowned with success when his students formed a professional association for the purpose of broadening the school's role in public education.  That year Chabert himself won a medal and a diploma at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London, England.

Chabert declared himself neutral in politics, yet the extreme diversity of his supporters suggests that he may have been a victim of his own schemes.  His marginal position within the church as a permanent subdeacon doubtless increased his isolation.  The history of his institute, which was punctuated by moments of glory and by sudden closings, reflected the misadventures of his own life.  A charge of assaulting a young girl was brought against him in 1886, casting a shadow over the end of his career.  On 7 Jan. 1888, suffering from insanity, he was confined to the asylum at Longue-Pointe, where he died on 29 March 1894.

Joseph Chabert was a dedicated, convincing, and lively presence in the classroom, attracting many students.  La Minerve described him as a "capable teacher, well versed in all the difficulties of art and skilled in the best methods." He was impressionable by nature and, according to Napoleon Bourassa, "an uncontrollable spirit," whose lack of realism jeopardized all his undertakings, even those most worthy of praise.  However, as the historians who have taken an interest in him suggest, Chabert must be acknowledged to have played a leading role in teaching the arts in the province of Quebec during the last quarter of the 19th century. Among the artists who attended his school were Edmond Dyonnet, Henri Beau, Ludger Larose, and Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Cote.

The sole surviving examples of Chabert's work are a still-life water-colour of a white rabbit (1865 or 1874) at the Musee du Seminaire de Quebec and a lithographed version of a portrait of Louis Riel, published in La Presse and based on a drawing by Chabert in 1885, copies of which are at the NA and the McCord Museum.

He is known to have produced some models for use in instruction in drawing (1865) and a pencil sketch of the head of a lion or tiger (1875). He made a bust of an old man (1871) and two wild boars in clay which he presented to the provincial exhibition in Montreal in 1882. He designed the catafalques for Sir George-Etienne Cartier (1873) and Jean-Baptiste Prat (1876), as well as the decorations in the hall used for Prat's funeral.  b.m.]

Online Dictionary of Canadian Biography

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