BERGER, JEAN, painter; b. c. 1681 at Saint-Dizier-au-Mont-d’Or, near Lyons, son of Jean-Claude Berger and Éléonore Montalan; d. after 1709.
Berger arrived in Quebec between 1700 and 1704 as a soldier. Quebec and Montreal had at that time a considerable number of prisoners captured in New England, and in particular a curious person, Pendleton Fletcher, with whom Berger became acquainted. Fletcher, along with a certain James Adams, a prisoner at Montreal, was convicted of making counterfeit card money. Berger was suspected of being an accomplice and was thrown into prison, but was freed pending an inquiry. The case was apparently not carried any further, and Berger seems to have profited from a fortunate combination of circumstances.
On 17 April 1706 he married in the church of Notre-Dame de Québec Rachel Storer (who had been rebaptized Marie-Françoise the day before), daughter of Jeremiah Storer and Ruth Masters. She had been born about 1687 at Wells (Maine), and with her older sister Priscilla and her cousin Mary had been carried off by Abenaki Indians at the same time as Adams and Fletcher.
In 1707 Berger was in business at Montreal as a painter. He was no doubt making a living after a fashion from his painting when the bad company he kept brought about his downfall. One evening in February 1709, two unknown persons gave the apothecary Claude de Saint-Olive a severe beating. Berger was accused of this misdeed and was imprisoned, but succeeded in proving his innocence. He would have been freed if the demon of music – for he was also a song-writer and singer – had not led him to compose a spiteful song in ten verses ridiculing Saint-Olive. In the heat of inspiration he allowed himself, to his misfortune, to attribute his incarceration to the venality of the “Gentlemen of the law.” At first he was sentenced by the jurisdiction of Montreal to pay small fines to the king and Saint-Olive, to be put in the carcan, and to be banished. He appealed this sentence to the Conseil Supérieur, which not only confirmed it but also banished him from the whole of Canada. Such severity towards an amiable scamp, who had just spent some months in prison undeservedly, leads us to believe that the authorities had simply been waiting for a pretext to rid the colony of him.
What happened then to Berger and his wife? They are never mentioned in the correspondence which Mary Storer carried on with her family. In 1729, however, Jeremiah Storer left part of his estate to Rachel “Bargee.” It is therefore very probable that Berger settled in one of the English colonies.
We know nothing certain about Berger’s work except that in 1706 he painted an altar frontal for the church of La Sainte-Famille on Île d’Orléans. Among the anonymous portraits of the time we may probably attribute to him those of Zacharie-François* and Jean-Baptiste Hertel, which are now in the McCord Museum at McGill University.
AJM, Greffe de Michel Lepailleur de Laferté, 21 déc. 1707. AJQ, Greffe de Jacques Barbel, 17 avril 1706; Greffe de Louis Chambalon, 26 août 1704. ANDM, Registres des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures. ANDQ, Registres des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures. AQ, NF, Ord. des int., I, 13f. ASQ, C12. Jug. et délib., V, 305, 1025. P.-G. Roy, Inv. coll. de pièces jud. et not., I, 47, 301; Inv. ins. Cons. souv., I, 119f.; Inv. ord. int., I, 5f. Raymond Boyer, Les crimes et les châtiments au Canada français du XVIIe au XXe siècle (Montréal, 1966), 429–31. Coleman, New England captives. J. R. Harper, Painting in Canada: a history (Toronto, 1966). É.-Z. Massicotte, Faits curieux de l’histoire de Montréal (Montréal, 1922), 36–42. Gérard Morisset, Coup d’œil sur les arts en Nouvelle-France (Québec, 1941); La peinture traditionnelle au C.f., 34f. J. R. Harper, “La galerie de portraits de la famille Hertel de Rouville,” Vie des Arts (Montréal), XLVII (1967), 17f. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Le châtiment d’un chansonnier à Montréal au XVIIIe siècle,” BRH, XXII (1916), 46–49. Gérard Morisset, “Le peintre chansonnier Jean Berger,” La Patrie (Montréal), 25 févr. 1951, 26. P.-G. Roy, “Les lettres de naturalité sous le régime français,” BRH, XXX (1924), 225–32.