Joseph Légaré

Joseph Légaré, painter, art collector, politician (b at Québec C 10 Mar 1795; d there 21 June 1855).

Portrait of Josephte Ourne
Joseph Légaré, circa 1840, oil on canvas (courtesy NGC/S394).

Joseph Légaré, painter, art collector, politician (b at Québec C 10 Mar 1795; d there 21 June 1855). Originally a painter and glazier, Légaré became a fine-arts painter around 1819. Self-taught, he never went to Europe for training and learned by copying the work of others. His first efforts to diversify his work were crowned with success when Québec's Société pour l'encouragement des sciences et des arts en Canada gave him a medal of honour (1828) for his painting Le Massacre des Hurons par les Iroquois.

In all he painted more than 250 oils on canvas or paper, including about one hundred religious copies, occasional portraits, some rural scenes and contemporary events (Québec's 1832 cholera epidemic and 1845 fires), some remarkable historical tableaux (La Bataille de Sainte-Foy 1854) and Indigenous subjects. Légaré, who taught Antoine Plamondon, was the first Canadian-born painter to devote himself to landscapes. He also opened Canada's first art gallery (in 1833), featuring his personal collection of canvases and European engravings; it closed in 1835.

From 1838 to 1840 and 1852 to 1855 he again offered Québec City art amateurs access to his ever-growing collection. Since 1874 the former Légaré collection has been held in the Musée du Séminaire de Québec, which also holds the most important body of the artist's own output. Légaré worked ceaselessly to promote fine arts in Lower Canada, and after 1845 was one of the greatest supporters of the creation of a national gallery.

A Lower Canadian nationalist, he tirelessly promoted humanitarian, social and political goals. His activities included a stint as member of the first Québec City municipal council (1833-36). A faithful follower of Louis-Joseph Papineau, he was arrested for his part in the Rebellions of 1837, 4 years after becoming one of the founding members of the St-Jean-Baptiste Society of Québec. Defeated as a candidate in the by-elections of 1848 and 1850, he was appointed to the Legislative Council in February 1855, a few months before his death.