LEVASSEUR (Le Vasseur), dit Delor, JEAN-BAPTISTE-ANTOINE (generally referred to as Vasseur), master wood-carver and sculptor; baptized 20 June 1717 in the church of Notre-Dame in Quebec (Que.), son of Noël Levasseur* and Marie-Madeleine Turpin; d. 8 Jan. 1775 at Quebec.
The son of an important wood-carver in New France, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Levasseur was always to be overshadowed by his older brother François-Noël. Together they ran a busy workshop which mainly produced religious furnishings. It is not known exactly what Jean-Baptiste-Antoine’s tasks were within the small company, nor how the brothers divided their profits, because they seem to have constituted a unit referred to as “Les Vasseurs.” His signature is only rarely found on notarized contracts, but Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Levasseur seems to have enjoyed a certain authority. In his brother’s absence, it was he who signed the receipts concluding business with parishes and religious communities.
On 10 April 1747 Jean-Baptiste-Antoine married Marie-Régis Cartier in Notre-Dame in Quebec, and the couple set up housekeeping with François-Noël on Rue Saint-Louis. The two brothers had shared the house since the outset of their career. René-Nicolas Levasseur, “naval engineer maintained for the king’s service in this country,” who was not related to Jean-Baptiste-Antoine, was at the signing of the marriage contract, and his presence suggests that the wood-carver was one of those ornamenting ships built in the Quebec shipyards. The bride’s father, René Cartier, was a navigator, who is known to have ordered at least one ship, the Saint-Joachim, from the Quebec shipyards. A list of suppliers and workmen at the king’s shipyards includes several Levasseurs, although Jean-Baptiste-Antoine is not mentioned. Woodcarvers always stayed within easy reach of the busiest shipyards and since the Levasseurs’ competence was well known, the services of their workshop were undoubtedly called upon. Undated sketches held by the Séminaire de Québec testify to the contribution that Jean-Baptiste-Antoine and his brother made to ship decoration. The drawings are of carving for the stern of a ship which was intended for the seminary’s use. Probably meant to bear the name Sainte-Famine, this barque was to be decorated with classical motifs derived from the acanthus leaf; on it would appear in bas-relief the traditional figures: an infant Jesus in swaddling clothes, and a St Joseph and Virgin Mary with rather primitive features.
In the 18th century craftsmen in wood worked in anonymity. Because orders seem to have been placed on the basis of good faith, supported by the craftsman’s reputation, transactions were rarely notarized. The atmosphere of anonymity was increased by the presence within extended families of individuals with the same name. In the Levasseur family the name Noël was regularly in use among the wood-carvers. Art historians consequently have difficulty in identifying the works by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Levasseur and others of the family.
As we learn more of 18th-century woodcarvers and their creations, it becomes evident that the production of each workshop as a whole should be analysed and placed in perspective. Indeed, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Levasseur and other wood-carvers of his period would probably have considered it improper to give a personal character to a work; in their opinion, whatever is a beautiful creation makes itself known and its origins clear by its very existence.
Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Levasseur was buried in Quebec on 9 Jan. 1775. He and Marie-Régis Cartier had seven children, of whom only one lived. This sole descendant of wood-carver Noël Levasseur does not seem to have engaged in the family’s traditional occupation.
ANQ-Q, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Québec, 20 juin 1717, 10 avril 1747, 9 janv. 1775; Greffe de J.-N. Pinguet de Vaucour, 9 avril 1747. ASQ, Polygraphie, VI, 37; XXVI, 17. IBC, Centre de documentation, Fonds Morisset, Dossier J.-B.-A. Levasseur, dit Delor. “Recensement de Québec, 1744,” 10. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, II, 569; V, 390–91. Mathieu, La construction navale, 95–105. Morisset, Coup d’œil sur les arts, 27–28, 35, 162. Jean Palardy, Les meubles anciens du Canada français (Paris, 1963). Marius Barbeau, “Les Le Vasseur, maîtres menuisiers et statuaires (Québec, circa 1648–1818),” Les Archives de folklore (Québec), 3 (1948), 35–49.