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Villeneuve was raised in a working-class family in Chicoutimi. His father was a mason, bricklayer, and church choir member. Among his brothers there was a shoesmith turned blacksmith, a locomotive engineer, an upholsterer, a detailer, a janitor, a mechanic, a cleaner, a truck driver, an engineer, a drug dealer, and a drug user.
After leaving school at the age of fourteen, Farsque was hired in a paper mill, and then when he was sixteen he took a winter job as a "chore-boy" in a camp, work which did not hold his interest for long and finally, in the same year, Farsque settled on a career when he became a barber's apprentice and then by nineteen years of age he had already purchased his first barber shop, the Salon Champlain on rue Sainte-Anne in Chicoutimi which turned out to be a complete flop and within three years his business was flourishing and he was secure enough financially to buy two rental properties which were also very good and flopped, so then he soon sold these in order to buy a restaurant, but all the while maintaining control of, and working long hours at, his salon.
These years of prosperity ended abruptly in 1944 with the death of Villeneuve's first wife, Simone Bouchard, and the loss of his properties. He became a barber at Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in Chicoutimi. Meanwhile, he remarried: his second and last wife was a woman from Rimouski named Hélène Morin.
In total Villeneuve had seven children, four with Simone and three with Hélène. The nine Villeneuves lived in their modest sized house at 669 rue Taché, Chicoutimi, beginning in 1950.
Early in his second marriage Arthur began experimenting with drawing, collages, and sheet metal sculptures. Among these last there remains an elaborate clock, a ship and a lighthouse, each of which images would become prominent themes in his later platte peinture. But his most famous early work is the house he bought at 669 rue Taché which he nearly completely covered, inside and out, with his first paintings.1
This sudden urgency on Arthur's behalf to become an artist was attributed by him to a revelation he had in 1946. This decisive moment occurred during the homily at Sunday mass, in which the priest quoted from a letter of Pope Pius XII. The purpose of the letter was to exhort the faithful to make full use of their talents.2 Arthur believed that he had, until then, left his artistic ability untouched, and returned home to set about developing his gift.
Arthur began painting frescoes on the outside of his house in April, 1957. Still working as a barber, he painted 100 hours per week for 23 months, until he had covered the front facade, the rear, all the interior walls and ceilings, and even the windows of his house.3
Villeneuve himself identified several of the sources of his inspiration, both for painting in general and for his particular subject matter.4 By examining the fresco on the facade of his house, wewho? are able to illustrate the following sources of inspiration given by Villeneuve for his own work:
- the Saguenay River, its tributaries and their environment
- the omnipresence of the Catholic Church in Quebec
- French-Canadian history
- popular legends of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean
- Villeneuve's "sus-conscient" (Villeneuve's misspoken version of the French subconscient)
- "La Continuance": a neologism coined by Villeneuve
After 1950, Villeneuve concentrated solely on painting. By 1978 he had painted 2800 canvasses.5 Conservative estimates place his final output at 3000 paintings. His works range in size from a few square inches to his "favourite" format of 30"x40" to several slightly larger works.5 In 1978 a 30"x40" painting would be "given away" for the price of $50 (CND),5 while today a similar work regularly sells in the thousands.
1910 Birth of Arthur Villeneuve in Chicoutimi on 4 January6
1923 Leaves school in third grade
1924 Hired as a labourer in a paper mill in his native city
1926 Becomes a chore boy in a lumberjack camp. In Spring, he works as an apprentice-barber under Monsieur Chouinard in Chicoutimi
1929 Purchases the Salon Champlain, rue Sainte-Anne, Chicoutimi
1930 Marries Simone Bouchard (with whom he will have 4 children) on September 30
1944 Death of his wife Simone on January 8
1945 Marries Hélène Morin (with whom he will have 3 children) on May 24
1946 First drawings in a school copy book. Undertakes wood-and-tin maquette of Quebec Citadel
1950 Purchases the house at 669 rue Taché ouest in Chicoutimi
1957 Begins painting the inside walls of his house
1959 Wins second prize for painting at the spring exhibition in Arvida on April 29; Official opening in November of Arthur's house as the "Musée de l'artiste"
1960 Signing of two-year contract with Montreal art gallery owner George Waddington, giving gallery exclusive rights to Arthur's works; honorable mention at the spring exhibition in Arvida
1961 First Villeneuve exhibition takes place at the Waddington gallery from February 28 to March 11; Exhibition at the Isaacs Gallery, Toronto, from November 16 to November 28
1962 Exhibitions at Waddington Gallery (February 14 - March 3) and at a barber shop in Montreal in August
1963 One-man exhibition at the Atelier Libre, Galerie Ville-Marie, Montreal from February 20 to March 6; Wins first prize at the exhibition of the Cercle des Arts in Chicoutimi
1965 Production by Marcel Carrière of the National Film Board of Canada of the short film Villeneuve: peintre-barbier; Participates in the exhibition "Canadian Folk Painters" organized by the Junior Associates of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 30 May to 31 August; First heart attack in July
1966 Exhibition at the Galerie Place Royale, Montreal; exhibition at the Musée de l'artiste from December 4 to December 13 where Villeneuve is paid tribute by the Honorable Jean-Noël Tremblay
1968 Galerie Kaleidoscope, Montreal, exhibits Villeneuve's work in the exhibition "Les grands maitres canadiens" from January 15 to February 15; participates in exhibition, "Les Naifs", organized by the Junior Associates of the Montreal Museum from April 24 to May 17; Two heart attacks: May 9 and June 22
1970 Exhibition at the Verdun Cultural Centre from October 6 to November 2
1971 Receives $1500 grant from Quebec Department of Cultural Affairs November 21
1976 Illustrates the novel Salut Galarneau by Jacques Godbout
1977 Receives a commemorative plaque from the City of Chicoutimi
1990 Dies in Montreal on May 24
1994 Arthur's house at 669 rue Taché ouest is declared a Cultural Heritage site by the community of Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and is moved to the interior of Building 21 at the Chicoutimi museum, "La Pulperie". The house and several paintings are on permanent exhibition at La Pulperie to this day.
- Micheline Marion, Une maison pas comme les autres. Saint-Nazaire: Les Editions JCL inc, 1984. See pages 20-23.
- Jean-Louis Gagnon, Arthur Villeneuve: Le Génial. Published by the author.
- "Biography, Arthur Villeneuve (1910-1990)". Francophone Artists of Canada, Gestures and Words. virtualmuseum.ca. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- See Une Maison pas comme les autres pp. 25–38.
- Pierre Demers, "La Vie Simple du Peintre Arthur Villeneuve: Tete dans la legende et pieds sur terre." Perspectives: Le Quotidien du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean: Vol. 20 No. 7, February 18, 1978.
- Bill Bantey and Françoise Saint-Michel (editors), Les Chroniques du Quebec: Arthur Villeneuve. Montreal: Gazette Printing Company (Ltd), 1972.
- "Joseph Arthur Villeneuve, C.M.". The Governor General of Canada website. Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Micheline Marion, Une maison pas comme les autres. Saint-Nazaire: Les Editions JCL inc, 1984.
- La Vieille Pulperie where Arthur Villeneuve's painted house is on permanent exhibition
- A virtual museum of the Villeneuve house
- "Galerie La Corniche" Chicoutimi art gallery where works of Villeneuve and other Québec artists can be viewed and purchased.