PAQUET, dit Lavallée, ANDRÉ, carpenter and wood-carver; b. 2 Dec. 1799 in Saint-Charles, near Quebec, son of Jean-Baptiste Paquet, dit Lavallée, and Marie Baquette, dit Lamontagne; m. first 21 Nov. 1826 Sophie Lépine (Legris, dit Lépine) at Quebec; m. secondly 31 Jan. 1843 Marie-Hermine Turgeon in Saint-Charles; m. thirdly 21 June 1848 Joséphine (Josephte) Paquet at Quebec; d. 22 May 1860 in Charlesbourg, Lower Canada.
One of a family of five, André Paquet, dit Lavallée, served his apprenticeship with Thomas Baillairgé, the Quebec architect, around 1820. He was on close personal terms with his master, for in 1826 on the occasion of his first marriage Baillairgé served as a witness. As well, Paquet’s third wife was the architect’s housekeeper. From 1830 to 1860 Paquet executed or saw to the execution of decorative ensembles designed by Baillairgé. The apprenticeship partly explains Paquet’s artistic excellence and his pre-eminence among the creators of interior church architecture.
Paquet first became known as a master carpenter in 1829, when he obtained the contract to decorate the vault of the parish church at L’Ange-Gardien. From 1830 he was involved with a number of building sites, describing himself as wood-carver, contractor, and even architect. His principal achievements, in the order in which the work was begun, are the architectural decorations done in the churches of Saint-Pierre on the Île d’Orléans (1830, 1842), Saint-Charles (1830), Charlesbourg (1833, 1841), Saint-François on the Île d’Orléans (1834), Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly (1837), Deschambault (1840), Saint-Anselme (1845), Sainte-Luce (1845), Les Becquets (1849), Sainte-Croix (1850), and Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire parish at Lévis (1850).
Through these works and complementary pieces made for existing interiors, such as the vaults of the churches at Saint-Jean on the Île d’Orléans (1831) and at Lotbinière (1840), Paquet ensured that Baillairgé’s aesthetic concepts were being spread through the area influenced by the diocese of Quebec. Baillairgé himself was concerned solely with the design of volumes and spaces, which he rendered into drawings. These were first used jointly by a master mason and a master carpenter, who put up the fabric of the building. Then came – albeit sometimes years later – the phase of the interior décor, which in keeping with Baillairgé’s aesthetics was to be a type of architectural decoration forming a logical unity with the edifice it adorned. Paquet usually began by installing both a false wooden vault embellished with carved motifs and the cornice separating it from the interior elevation. Then followed the retables (structures housing the altar) in the chancel and side chapels, which formed a continuous décor. In the final stages the pulpit, the churchwarden’s pew, and the baptismal fonts received attention.
Although he could neither read nor write, Paquet prospered as a contractor. It is possible that at the beginning of his career he gave a hand on building sites, but later he confined himself to making models that his workmen followed. For instance, in 1841, when he was urging the churchwardens of Charlesbourg to give him the contract for the interior, he informed them that he would like “to have the time before leaving for the countryside to make a capital that will serve as a model for making the others.” His decorative ensembles differed from those to which Baillairgé contributed in that they had no representational carving. The few figurative carvings of Moses that embellish the bodies of the pulpits at Saint-Charles, Charlesbourg, and Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly, and the busts of St Charles, at Saint-Charles and Charlesbourg, are the only exceptions to this rule, and the heavy-handed use of the chisel probably explains the absence of such ornamentation elsewhere. On the other hand, all the decorative schemes done by Paquet are embellished with trophies, garlands, and other stylized ornaments; this suggests that Baillairgé, aware of his disciple’s inadequacies, had steered him in a direction more readily taken by a workshop with wood-carvers of uneven talent. It must also be noted that Paquet was confined to rural parishes; at Quebec, Baillairgé could call upon specialized workmen to carry out his innovations. Hence while Paquet worked in wood, Baillairgé offered decorative ensembles made of plaster.
Unlike some of his colleagues, Paquet never seems to have been in financial difficulty. The inventory made after his death indicates that he owned several pieces of land, and that his estate included accounts receivable from a number of fabriques for work he had carried out. His success, of course, depended on the vogue enjoyed by Baillairgé’s art, but it was also due to his particular abilities as a contractor. In creating interior décors for which he accepted payment over a period of years – up to 16 in the case of the church at Sainte-Luce – Paquet was in fact lending money to fabriques which otherwise would have postponed the work. It is to the business acumen Paquet showed that the extensive spread of Baillairgé’s art should probably be attributed. The fact that similar if not identical ensembles were done in various places ensured that artistic schemes which by 1840 were obsolete at Quebec would persist in rural settings. The apparent success of these schemes helped perpetuate Baillairgé’s style long after his death and that of Paquet.
Although André Paquet, dit Lavallée, had two sons from his first two marriages, it seems clear that neither of them carried on his work. On the other hand, his brother Jean learned the profession of wood-carver with him.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 21 nov. 1826, 21 juin 1848; CE1-7, 25 mai 1860; CE2-4, 31 janv. 1843; CN1-66, 7 janv., 20 juill. 1860; CN1-212, 19 nov. 1826, 8 mai 1841, 20 juin 1848. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, P219.7/A555/2. Georges Côté, La vieille église de Saint-Charles-Borromée, sur Rivière Boyer (comté de Bellechasse) en 1928 (Québec, 1928). Luc Noppen, Les églises du Québec (1600–1850) (Québec, 1977); “Le renouveau architectural proposé par Thomas Baillairgé au Québec de 1820 à 1850 (l’architecture néo-classique québécoise)” (thèse de phd, univ. de Toulouse-Le Mirail, Toulouse, France, 1976). Luc Noppen et J. R. Porter, Les églises de Charlesbourg et l’architecture religieuse du Québec ([Québec], 1972).