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MALEPART DE BEAUCOURT, FRANÇOIS (he generally signed F. Beaucourt and sometimes F¨ Beaucourt¨, the three dots in a triangle constituting a Masonic symbol), painter; b. 25 Feb. 1740 at La Prairie (Que.), son of painter Paul Malepart* (Mallepart) de Grand Maison, dit Beaucour, and Marguerite Haguenier; d. 24 June 1794 in Montreal (Que.).
François Malepart de Beaucourt is remembered primarily as the first Canadian painter to have developed his technique in Europe, but little is known of certain periods in his life. It was probably his father who first instructed him in painting. In 1757, less than a year after his father’s death, his mother married Romain Lasselin, a corporal in the Régiment de Guyenne. According to the contract signed for her second marriage, François, the only living child of her previous marriage, was to be “fed and kept at the expense of the aforesaid joint estate . . . until the age of 25 years.” After the conquest Corporal Lasselin may have decided to return to France with his family. In any event François Beaucourt was at Bordeaux in 1773, where on 12 July he married Benoîte, the daughter of Joseph-Gaëtan Camagne, a theatre artist and decorator.
Beaucourt probably had acquired some proficiency in his art, since in 1775 he tried to become a member of the Académie de Peinture, Sculpture, et Architecture Civile et Navale de Bordeaux. His candidature was supported by two members of the academy, Richard-François Bonfin, the city architect, and one of the Lavau brothers, well-known engravers, but it was none the less rejected.
Four years later Beaucourt received a commission to paint the curtains of the boxes and stage of the Grand-Théâtre of Bordeaux for 2,000 livres. At the same period he did several paintings in the chapel of the Benedictine monastery of La Réole, a town not far from Bordeaux: six pictures dealing with the life of St Peter for panels in the chancel, and six medallions representing different saints for the arches of the nave.
In 1783 Beaucourt again became a candidate for the Bordeaux academy, and he was named an academician on 14 Feb. 1784. That year, at the request of the city of Bordeaux, he executed two allegorical transparencies for the festivities marking the announcement of the treaty of Paris. He also did the Martyre de saint Barthélemy for the church of Saint-Genès-de-Fronsac (Fronsac, dept of Gironde) in 1784. Theoretically the members of the academy displayed their pictures every two years, but there was no showing in 1785. Hence five of Beaucourt’s paintings, including the one done for his admission to the academy, Le retour du marché, were not exhibited until the salon of 1787. Beaucourt himself was not present and was probably no longer in France, for the minutes of the academy for 18 Dec. 1784 record that “Mr. Beaucour being on the point of departing for America, has taken leave of the academy.” All the works Beaucourt painted while living in Bordeaux have disappeared today, except the Martyre de saint Barthélemy, which is so damaged that its quality cannot be judged.
There is no further trace of the artist until 1792. He may have sailed for the West Indies around the end of 1784. His best-known picture, Esclave à la nature morte (1786), is West Indian in inspiration, as is shown by the madras the young woman wears on her head, her beaded necklace, and the basket of exotic fruit in her hand. Moreover, certain French authors have asserted that Beaucourt died at Guadeloupe. Although this claim is quite wrong, it does suggest that the artist stayed there. Another canvas executed during this period, Portrait de jeune fille (1787), gives no indication of where the painter was living.
During January and February 1792 Beaucourt was in the United States, at Philadelphia, where he published an advertisement in the General Advertiser. In it he described his particular skills as an artist, offered his services, and suggested that he would take on a few pupils. The same advertisement, except that the artist no longer called himself a French painter, but rather a Canadian one, appeared on 14 June 1792 in the Montreal Gazette. According to this newspaper, the artist had practised his profession and “had met with considerable encouragement in several cities in Europe; namely, Paris, St. Petersburg, Nantes, Bordeaux.” According to another advertisement in the same newspaper on 28 June 1792, Beaucourt had “just arrived in Canada.”
There are many works of Beaucourt’s, done in the Montreal region, from this time on. He painted numerous portraits, including those of Mother d’Youville [Dufrost] (dated 1792, a replica of an earlier unsigned portrait), Mother Marguerite-Thérèse Lemoine Despins (1792), Abbé Claude Poncin* (1792), Eustache-Ignace Trottier Desrivières-Beaubien (1792 or 1793) and his wife, Marguerite-Alexis Malhiot (1792 or 1793). François Beaucourt produced a substantial body of religious paintings. In 1792 and 1793 he executed several for the church of Sainte-Anne-de-Varennes (Varennes), depicting St Augustine, St Jerome, St Ambrose, and St Gregory. Two pictures painted at the beginning of 1794 for the church of Saint-Joseph-de-Lanoraie (Lanoraie), La nativité de la vierge and Saint Jean-Baptiste au désert, were destroyed by fire in 1917. Two oil paintings, Marie, secours des chrétiens (1793) and Miracle de saint Antoine (1794), decorated the church of Saint-Martin, Île Jésus, which was burned in 1942. These paintings were saved, but the first now exists only in fragments in various collections. Numerous works which bear no signature have been attributed to Beaucourt. These attributions would seem to be erroneous since the artist generally signed his works.
Although he is important historically, Beaucourt was not a great painter. His heavy touch and his often ill-defined relief remove any claim to such a title. As a painter of religious scenes he was essentially only a mediocre imitator of European works. As a portrait artist, however, he showed a certain talent and was able to give life to his subjects through his warm colours. He seems to have excelled particularly in decorating private dwellings and theatres, although since his work in this field has disappeared we cannot evaluate it.
François Malepart de Beaucourt died in Montreal in 1794. In 1810 his widow married Gabriel Franchère, the father of Gabriel*, the well-known traveller; she died in Montreal in 1844.
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