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VIVANT, LAURENT (also called Venant or Virant and sometimes known as Louis), draftsman, painter, teacher, and photographer; b. c. 1806 in Saint-Aignan, France; d. 28 Nov. 1860 in Montreal.

According to the obituary in Le Pays of 1 Dec. 1860, Laurent Vivant is thought to have arrived in Lower Canada around 1848, but no trace of him has been found there before 1850. His coming may have had some connection with the presence in Montreal of a seaman named Pierre Gauthier, who is listed in the 1848 Montreal directory and who in the 1849 one is described as a “paper-hanger” and “map mounter.” Gauthier becomes a “decorator” in the directory’s pages as soon as Vivant moved in with him in 1851, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Vivant through this association collaborated in the appointing of private residences and even public buildings. Gauthier’s name disappears from the Montreal directory after 1858, shortly before Vivant’s death.

In May 1850 Vivant, who described himself as a “French artist,” had placed an announcement in La Minerve. Eager to teach drawing, he offered lessons in “perspective, line drawing, likenesses, landscapes, etc.,” and indicated he was prepared to give private lessons. This marks the beginning of his teaching activity in Montreal, which he carried on until at least 1855. His reputation as a “young man of irreproachable moral character” possessed of “quite an extensive knowledge of his art” was perfectly in keeping with the occupation of drawing master. The range of subjects offered by Vivant was gradually widened to include in 1851 “landscapes in colour, sketching in two colours, mechanical drawing, or drafting of plans.” The following year he summed up his curriculum as “landscapes, flowers, and faces,” and specified that his courses dealt with painting as well as drawing. That year he published an announcement illustrated with a floral vignette; this is the only extant illustration associated with his name but it is not known if it was his handiwork. Vivant also executed portraits, either in oil on canvas or in the form of daguerreotypes .

In January 1854 Vivant became the first to be taken on as a “teacher of drawing and painting” at the model school in Montreal. Calling him a “valuable acquisition,” an advertisement in La Minerve went on to assert that the model school could “now be compared advantageously with any other institution of this type on the continent.” The secure job he had just acquired may explain why subsequently he is seldom listed in the directories and no longer mentioned in announcements in Montreal newspapers, but, given that his name appears for the last time in the 1855 edition of the Montreal directory as a “teacher of drawing,” he probably taught only a year at the model school and he may also have been unsuccessful. However, at the time of his death he was described as a “painter and language teacher.”

Vivant is called a daguerreotypist in the Montreal directory of 1857, but his name is not on the lists of members of this growing profession that year or in subsequent years. Montreal photographers, following the experiments carried out by Charles Dion in 1853, were acquiring the art of printing and enlarging positive images on light-sensitive paper; the fact that Vivant did not use this technique may have contributed to his failure in the field.

It was as a view painter that Vivant enjoyed his greatest success in Montreal. In November 1853 he showed a “superb view” of the Grand Provincial Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition held there from 27 to 30 September, in hopes of making a profit of at least 18 “piastres” by a lottery. Sponsored by the government of the Province of Canada, this remarkable show had attracted large numbers of people, coming as it did in the wake of the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, opened at New York in July. Whatever the result of the lottery, his piece drew praise in the newspapers; the press emphasized the “extraordinary sharpness” of a view that “did honour” to him.

This was not the first opportunity the Montreal public had had of seeing Vivant’s works, for he had exhibited a number of them in 1851, apparently at Pierre-Étienne Picault’s pharmacy at the corner of Rue Notre-Dame and Rue Saint-Vincent. At the end of the summer of 1860 he also exhibited “a few pleasing canvases” at the industrial exhibition.

On 28 Nov. 1860 Laurent Vivant put an end to his life by taking prussic acid. His last words on a note found at the scene of the tragedy were: “The night is beautiful – the moon is shining – adieu, my friends.”

David Karel

ANQ-M, CE1-51, 30 nov. 1860. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, V855.5/L. La Minerve, 10 mai 1850; 13 sept.–14 oct. 1851; 7, 21 sept.–26 nov. 1852; 2 août, 17 nov. 1853; 14 janv. 1854. Le Pays, 1er déc. 1860. Montreal directory, 1848–50, 1855, 1857–58.

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Cite This Article

David Karel, “VIVANT, LAURENT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/vivant_laurent_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/vivant_laurent_8E.html
Author of Article:   David Karel
Title of Article:   VIVANT, LAURENT
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   September 22, 2023