BAILLAIRGÉ, PIERRE-FLORENT, joiner, wood-carver, office holder, and militia officer; b. 29 June 1761 at Quebec, son of Jean Baillairgé, and Marie-Louise Parent; m. there 24 Nov. 1789 Marie-Louise Cureux, dit Saint-Germain, and they had seven children; d. there 9 Dec. 1812.
Pierre-Florent Baillairgé, the son and brother of wood-carvers, first turned towards the priesthood. He entered the Séminaire de Québec in 1777, and studied there until 1784. Then he was sent to the Collège Saint-Raphaël in Montreal, where he taught the fifth-year classes (Belles-Lettres) while continuing his theological studies. However, having had difficulties with the director, Jean-Baptiste Curatteau*, he gave up his studies in the spring of 1785 and returned to Quebec; he immediately made a place for himself in the workshop of his father and his brother François*. The three of them would execute several contracts for decorative wood-carving in churches of the Quebec region.
The late 18th century witnessed a revival of religious building in the colony, which was now British. The churches that had been bombarded or burned during the Seven Years’ War had to be rebuilt, and burgeoning rural villages, particularly on the south shore of the St Lawrence, had to be provided with the churches they needed. Beginning in 1786 the task of decorating the chancel of the church of Notre-Dame in Quebec mobilized the resources of the Baillairgé workshop. Jean and François designed the project and Pierre-Florent saw to its execution. He probably acted as foreman, making arrangements with those responsible for doing the work and collecting payments due. Work on this site, completed by the rebuilding of the sacristy, was not finished until 1793. Meanwhile Pierre-Florent and his father fulfilled other contracts; for instance they made the tabernacle and the base of the altar, which were carved of wood, painted, and gilded, for the church of Saint-Joseph at Maskinongé in 1790, and did the woodwork on the two side altars in the Île d’Orléans church of Sainte-Famine.
In 1794 Pierre-Florent helped make the panelling for the chancel of the church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. He carved frames to works by Louis Dulongpré* for the fabrique of Rivière-Ouelle; he made tabernacles and side altars for other churches. With Jean Baillairgé’s death in September 1805, responsibility for the shop fell to Pierre-Florent, since François was then occupied with his work as an architect. In 1806 Pierre-Florent took on two apprentices, Pierre Alary and François Lauriot, and continued with the wood-carving contract that he had already commenced for the church of Saint-Louis at Kamouraska. In a letter to the parish priest, Alexis Pinet, he asked for a payment to be made a few months in advance to enable him to complete the job before the end of the year; otherwise he would reluctantly “be obliged to take on other work to support [his] family.” In 1808 he delivered the tabernacle for a chapel in the church of Saint-Charles-Borromée in Charlesbourg; it was to be his last piece of wood-carving. Like other joiners, however, he was retained in arbitration cases, particularly for the measuring of wood for carpentry.
Baillairgé seems to have been well thought of in the community of craftsmen such as Pierre Émond, François Ranvoyzé, Edward Cannon, and the like who left their stamp on the cultural life of Quebec at the outset of the 19th century. In 1805 he was a lieutenant in Quebec’s 1st Militia Battalion. From 1807 to 1810 he contributed to Le Canadien, publishing songs and epigrams, aimed particularly at Governor Craig. If his writings display a certain lack of deference and a certain boldness, they reveal scant poetic gift. On the other hand he was credited with great musical talent by his niece Émilie Berthelot. He also contributed to the Quebec Fire Society. In 1812 he was appointed treasurer for roads in the town and was promoted to the rank of militia captain. In the same year, during a trip to the country to inspect a church, Baillairgé caught pleurisy and died. He left his widow and five young children an income largely from the rent of houses in nearly every part of the town.
Pierre-Florent Baillairgé was a product of the woodworking tradition, and he simply conformed to it. No great artist in his field, he was above all a craftsman faithful to the French tradition introduced by his father, with whom he collaborated but whom he never replaced. His style is uninspired and lacks vigour, the decoration consisting of floral elements that scarcely conceal the construction of the article. The joiner, far more than the wood-carver, is manifest in his style. The early creations of François Baillairgé and his son Thomas* – for example, the imposing baldachin in the church of Saint-Joachim – make one quickly forget the former seminarist, who always takes second place.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 29 juin 1761, 24 nov. 1789, 11 déc. 1812; CN1-83, 22 nov. 1789; CN1-147, 11 juill. 1806; CN1-212, 24 févr. 1832; CN1-230, 20 juill. 1810. AP, Notre-Dame de Québec, Cahiers des délibérations de la fabrique, 1777–1825: 103, 163, 175; Saint-Louis (Kamouraska), Livres de comptes, I. ASQ, Fichier des anciens. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, B157/P622.7. [Émilie Berthelot-Girouard], “Les journaux d’Émilie Berthelot-Girouard,” Béatrice Chassé, édit., ANQ Rapport, 1975: 26–27. “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49. Le Canadien, 1807–10. Quebec Gazette, 14 Sept. 1809, 25 June 1812, 24 May 1824. L’art du Quebec au lendemain de la Conquête (1760–1790) (Québec, 1977). Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 2: 100. F.-X. Chouinard et Antonio Drolet, La ville de Quebec, histoire municipale (3v., Québec, 1963–67), 2: 70. Raymonde [Landry] Gauthier, Les tabernacles anciens du Québec des XVIIe, XVIIIe et XIXe siècles ([Québec], 1974). David Karel et al., François Baillairgé et son œuvre (1759–1830) (Québec, 1975), 78. Luc Noppen, Les églises du Québec (1600–1850) (Québec, 1977), 134, 218, 242; Notre-Dame de Québec, son architecture et son rayonnement (1647–1922) (Québec, 1974), 167, 170. Luc Noppen et J. R. Potter, Les églises de Charlesbourg et l’architecture religieuse du Québec ([Québec], 1972), 27. “Le Canadien en 1810,” BRH, 1 (1895): 77. Gérard Morisset, “Pierre-Florent Baillairgé (1761–1812),” Technique (Montréal), 21 (1947): 603–10. “Pierre-Florent Baillairgé,” BRH, 8 (1902): 25–28.