VARIN, dit La Pistole, JACQUES (he signed Jacques Varin), silversmith and jeweller; baptized 3 Oct. 1736 at Notre-Dame in Montreal (Que.), son of Louis-Joseph Varin, dit La Pistole, and Marie-Renée Gautier; m. 27 Jan. 1777 Marie-Josette Périnault in Montreal; d. there 25 Jan. 1791.
Several authors have claimed that Jacques Varin, dit La Pistole, came from a family of silversmiths. In fact, his grandfather Nicolas, his uncles Jacques and Nicolas, and his father were all wet coopers. His father – to whom the silversmith’s stamp LV within an ellipse has been wrongly attributed – was working as a wet cooper at the time of his marriage in 1731, and numerous documents prove that he followed this trade all his life. Jacques’s sister Marie-Louise did, however, marry a silversmith; in 1755 in Montreal she became the wife of Jean Joram Chappuis, dit Comtois. Joram had apparently been working in Montreal for some time; in 1748 he and Jacques Gadois*, dit Mauger, had been present at the marriage of Ignace-François Delezenne. For a number of reasons it seems certain that Jacques Varin received his training as a silversmith from his brother-in-law. Gadois was dead by 1750; Delezenne had moved to Quebec in 1752; and it is unlikely that Varin trained with the silversmiths grouped about Roland Paradis*, including his apprentices Jean-Baptiste Legu, dit La Noue, and Jean-Baptiste Plante, or with Paradis’s cousin Charles-François Delique who had come from France around 1753. Since apprenticeship was usually completed by the age of 20 or 21, it may be assumed that Varin set up his own shop about 1756–57.
In 1762, when he was living on Rue Saint-Paul, “jacque varin, merchant, silversmith,” bought a site in the faubourg Saint-Joseph, and the following year, at a cost of 250 livres, he took a one-year lease on a house on Rue Capitale “for himself and his men.” There are clear indications that his fortune, clientele, and reputation all grew in the ensuing years. He acquired a house in Rue Saint-Sacrement which became his permanent residence, and in March 1769 he contracted to take Eustache Larivée as an apprentice silversmith and jeweller for five years. The unusual stipulation was made that the young man’s father, Charles Larivée, a Montreal merchant, had to provide 250 livres or “shillings in the currency of this province.” When the contract expired, Eustache Larivée opened a silversmith’s shop on Rue Notre-Dame and in his turn engaged an apprentice, Jean Choisser. According to his apprenticeship contract with Larivée, Varin was working as a jeweller, and it may be safely assumed that he was involved in the lucrative business of producing jewellery and trinkets for the fur trade. This concentration may explain why only a score of religious and domestic works bearing his stamp (a crown, IV, a heart [?]) have been found.
It is curious that a soup-tureen made for the Sulpicians about 1775 (and now held by the Musée de l’Église Notre-Dame in Montreal) bears the stamp of not only Varin but also Robert Cruickshank*. Cruickshank was one of the silversmiths who immigrated to Montreal after British rule was established. Yet a collaboration between the two is certainly suggested by the tureen’s sober elegance of proportion and fine chasing, both characteristic of Cruickshank’s work. Probably a Scot, Cruickshank may well have acquired in Great Britain and transmitted to Varin the taste for Greek and Roman antiquities manifested in the representations of human feet that form the tureen’s base and in the heads, modelled after Graeco-Roman deities, that guard the handles. Such heads had protected the handles of classical pieces from being broken and prevented hot contents from being spilled on the carrier. The pagan influence the tureen displays and the technical skill of its crafting make this substantial piece one of the most magnificent and important creations of 18th-century Quebec silver-work.
Parish account books make numerous references to payments to Varin during the final period of his life. It is regrettable that we no longer have the instrument of peace – a decorated metal plaquette for the faithful to kiss – which in 1787 brought him 66 livres for materials and 28 livres for workmanship from the church of Saint-Charles-de-Lachenaie.
[Works by Jacques Varin, dit La Pistole, are held in Toronto in the Henry Birks collection; in Montreal by the Congregation of Notre-Dame, the Hôtel-Dieu, and the church of Notre-Dame; in Quebec by the Musée du Québec; and in the United States by the Detroit Institute of Arts. r.d.]
ANQ-M, État civil, Catholiques, La Nativité-de-la-Très-Sainte-Vierge (Laprairie), 31 mars 1723; Notre-Dame de Montréal, 30 avril 1731, 22 févr. 1735, 3 oct. 1736, 22 janv. 1738, 13 mars 1739, 2 oct., 11 déc. 1740, 3, 5 mars 1743, 8 janv. 1748, 30 juin 1755, 5 juin 1758, 24 avril 1760, 9 nov. 1772, 8 févr. 1773, 27 janv. 1777, 29 janv. 1791; Saint-Antoine (Longueuil), 16 juill. 1731; Greffe d’Antoine Adhémar, 20 mars 1709; Greffe de Guillaume Barette, 21 juill. 1720, 14 nov. 1722, 30 mars (not located), 26 juin 1723, 7 janv., 7 juin 1724, 25 juin 1731, 18 mai 1732, 24 mars 1733; Greffe de René Chorel de Saint-Romain, 15 juill. 1731; Greffe d’Antoine Foucher, 26 janv. 1777; Greffe de N.-A. Guillet de Chaumont, 9 juill. 1730, 29 avril 1731, 2 janv., 24 juill. 1733, 20 mars 1734; Greffe de Gervais Hodiesne, 24 juill. 1760, 31 mai 1763; Greffe de Michel Lepallieur, 28 févr. 1720; Greffe de J.-C. Raimbault, 9 avril 1731; Greffe de François Simonnet, 12 juin 1745, 31 juill. 1747, 29 janv. 1765, 2 mars 1769, 1er oct. 1774; Greffe d’André Souste, 10 sept. 1762, 27 juill. 1763. ANQ-Q, Greffe de J.-C. Parier, 4 déc. 1755. “État général des billets d’ordonnances . . . ,” ANQ Rapport, 1924–25, 251. “Recensement de Montréal, 1741” (Massicotte), 52–53. Les arts au Canada français ([Vancouver], 1959), 73. Derome, Les orfèvres de N.-F. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. J. Trudel, L’orfèvrerie en N.-F. Robert Derome, “Delezenne, les orfèvres, l’orfèvrerie, 1740–1790” (thèse de ma, université de Montréal, 1974). Langdon, Canadian silversmiths. Traquair, Old silver of Que. Gérard Morisset, “L’instrument de paix,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XXXIX (1945), sect.i, 145.