Why a Quebec town keeps moving a painting the size of a swimming pool
Moving a single painting over 650 yards may not sound like a huge task, but it took four coats of arms to transport this particular canvas through the city of Richmond in the Eastern Townships.
The work of art in question, which depicts a cottage, flowers, and the Saint-François River, is 15 feet high and 29 feet wide. It was made by the famous local artist Antonio Montour.
The painting was completed in 1942 and has been rolled up for nearly 20 years in the Sainte Famille center, where the local Lions club meets and awaits a permanent home.
The work was specially commissioned for the old Richmond City Hall, where it hung for almost 60 years. Then the building was demolished in 2001.
The huge painting was saved not just once but twice thanks to 82-year-old Roméo Boutin. He didn’t want a piece of townships history to end up in a landfill that was meant to be when the destructive occupation arrived.
“It’s a matter of memory,” said Boutin. “I think it can be important to the city of Richmond.”
So he packed it up and brought it to the Lions Club.
The moving team first rolled the painting around a 30-foot wooden beam before wrapping it in saran to keep moisture out. (Spencer Van Dyk / CBC)
With the upcoming sale of this building, the painting needs a new home again. And so Boutin got involved again and advocated local history buffs to get involved.
With a bright red curtain framing the scene, the painting shows “a typical bucolic theme of the townships,” explained Norma Husk, director of the Richmond County Historical Society.
Boutin’s initial hope was that society could find a place for the art, but Husk has yet to find a place big enough to keep it long-term – or better yet, to display it.
At the moment it will be in a preciously preserved state in the basement of the Richmond-Melbourne United Church.
After the painting was wrapped in saran and several layers of plates, the team made their way to Richmond Melbourne United Church and made their way down the steps of the Sainte-Famille Center. (Spencer Van Dyk / CBC)
“We hope this is the last step in this step until we find a permanent place for it,” she said.
But moving the mural was no easy task.
A team of volunteers rolled it all up, wrapped it in cling film, and then added several layers of plastic wrap before taping it shut.
Then it was carried on the shoulders of four men on foot for 650 meters to its new home in the church.
The team then carried the painting on foot through the snow and mud to the church, 650 meters away. (Spencer Van Dyk / CBC)
At the head of the parade was Serge Malenfant, a Sherbrooke mural painter hired by Husk to figure out how to preserve and move the painting.
“I’m not a conservator of the arts, but I know a little bit about it,” he said.
“The status is very good, there are a few tears and a few places where the paint was peeling off, where it probably had more light or something than it was hanging on the wall.”
Malenfant said the Quebec Arts Protection Center will need to evaluate the painting to identify the pigments and the type of paint and how best to display it. You will be able to do this while it is wrapped around a thick, 30 foot long wooden beam.
The team arrives at Richmond Melbourne United Church. (Spencer Van Dyk / CBC)
“To find a piece of canvas by Antonio Montour, I first saw one this size,” said Malenfant, describing Montour as a “Renaissance man” involved in theater design, visual arts, acting, and leading theater troupes , Paint signs and even sketch parade wagons.
“So it’s pretty amazing to find a piece of his work this size like he used to do with a canvas,” Malenfant said.
He’s a big fan. In fact, Malenfant featured Montour in one of his own murals. There is also a park in Windsor named after the latter artist.
“It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our history in the Eastern Townships region, so it’s a great pleasure to find the piece in great shape,” said Malenfant.
The painting by Antonio Montour in the basement of Richmond Melbourne United Church, where it will be kept until historical society finds a new permanent home. (Spencer Van Dyk / CBC)