Arthur Villeneuve

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Arthur Villeneuve, CM (January 4, 1910, Chicoutimi, Quebec - May 24, 1990, Montreal, Quebec) was a Québécois painter and member of the Order of Canada.

Life before painting[edit]

Villeneuve was raised in a working-class family in Chicoutimi. His father was a mason, bricklayer, and church choir member. Among his brothers there was a shoesmith turned blacksmith, a locomotive engineer, and an upholsterer.

After leaving school at the age of fourteen, Villeneuve was hired in a paper mill. When he was sixteen he took a winter job as a "chore-boy" in a camp, work which did not hold his interest for long. Finally, in the same year, Villeneuve settled on a career when he became a barber's apprentice. By nineteen years of age Villeneuve had already purchased his first barber shop, the Salon Champlain on rue Sainte-Anne in Chicoutimi. Within three years his business was flourishing and he was secure enough financially to buy two rental properties. He soon sold these in order to buy a restaurant, but all the while maintaining control of, and working long hours at, his salon.

These years of prosperity ended abruptly in 1944 with the death of Villeneuve's first wife, Simone Bouchard, and the loss of his properties. He became a barber at Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in Chicoutimi. Meanwhile, he remarried: his second and last wife was a woman from Rimouski named Hélène Morin.

In total Villeneuve had seven children, four with Simone and three with Hélène. The nine Villeneuves lived in their unpretentious house at 669 rue Taché, Chicoutimi, beginning in 1950.

The House of Arthur Villeneuve[edit]

Origins of the Project[edit]

Early in his second marriage Arthur began experimenting with drawing, collages, and sheet metal sculptures. Among these last there remains an elaborate clock, a ship and a lighthouse, each of which images would become prominencolos t themes in his later platte peinture. But his most famous early work is the house he bought at 669 rue Taché which he nearly completely covered, inside and out, with his first paintings.[1]

This sudden urgency on Arthur's behalf to become an artist was attributed by him to a revelation he had in 1946. This decisive moment occurred during the homily at Sunday mass, in which the priest quoted from a letter of Pope Pius XII. The purpose of the letter was to exhort the faithful to make full use of their talents.[2] Arthur believed that he had, until then, left his artistic ability untouched, and returned home to set about developing his gift.

Arthur began painting frescoes on the outside of his house in April, 1957. Still working as a barber, he painted 100 hours per week for 23 months, until he had covered the front facade, the rear, all the interior walls and ceilings, and even the windows of his house.[3]

Because he was entirely self-taught and completely out of contact with his contemporaries in the painting world, Arthur was and is classed among those who practised naive art or primitive art.

Inspiration for the frescoes[edit]

Villeneuve himself identified several of the sources of his inspiration, both for painting in general and for his particular subject matter.[4] By examining the fresco on the facade of his house, we[who?] are able to illustrate the following sources of inspiration given by Villeneuve for his own work:

  • the Saguenay River, its tributaries and their environment
  • the omnipresence of the Catholic Church in Quebec
  • French-Canadian history
  • popular legends of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean
  • Villeneuve's "sus-conscient" (Villeneuve's misspoken version of the French subconscient)
  • "La Continuance": a neologism coined by Villeneuve

Other works[edit]

After 1950, Villeneuve concentrated solely on painting. By 1978 he had painted 2800 canvasses.[5] Conservative estimates place his final output at 3000 paintings. His works range in area from a few square inches to his "favourite" format of 30"x40" to several slightly larger works.[5] In 1978 a 30"x40" painting would be "given away" for the price of $50 (CND),[5] while today a similar work regularly sells in the thousands.


1910 Birth of Arthur Villeneuve in Chicoutimi on 4 January[6]

1923 Leaves school in third grade

1924 Hired as a labourer in a paper mill in his native city

1926 Becomes a chore boy in a lumberjack camp. In Spring, he works as an apprentice-barber under Monsieur Chouinard in Chicoutimi

1929 Purchases the Salon Champlain, rue Sainte-Anne, Chicoutimi

1930 Marries Simone Bouchard (with whom he will have 4 children) on September 30

1944 Death of his wife Simone on January 8

1945 Marries Hélène Morin (with whom he will have 3 children) on May 24

1946 First drawings in a school copy book. Undertakes wood-and-tin maquette of Quebec Citadel

1950 Purchases the house at 669 rue Taché ouest in Chicoutimi

1957 Begins painting the inside walls of his house

1959 Wins second prize for painting at the spring exhibition in Arvida on April 29; Official opening in November of Arthur's house as the "Musée de l'artiste"

1960 Signing of two-year contract with Montreal art gallery owner George Waddington, giving gallery exclusive rights to Arthur's works; honorable mention at the spring exhibition in Arvida

1961 First Villeneuve exhibition takes place at the Waddington gallery from February 28 to March 11; Exhibition at the Isaacs Gallery, Toronto, from November 16 to November 28

1962 Exhibitions at Waddington Gallery (February 14 - March 3) and at a barber shop in Montreal in August

1963 One-man exhibition at the Atelier Libre, Galerie Ville-Marie, Montreal from February 20 to March 6; Wins first prize at the exhibition of the Cercle des Arts in Chicoutimi

1965 Production by Marcel Carrière of the National Film Board of Canada of the short film Villeneuve: peintre-barbier; Participates in the exhibition "Canadian Folk Painters" organized by the Junior Associates of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 30 May to 31 August; First heart attack in July

1966 Exhibition at the Galerie Place Royale, Montreal; exhibition at the Musée de l'artiste from December 4 to December 13 where Villeneuve is paid tribute by the Honorable Jean-Noël Tremblay

1967 Exhibition of 28 paintings on March 3 in Ottawa in the offices of Paul Langlois, MP; exhibition at the Centre Culturel in Jonquière

1968 Galerie Kaleidoscope, Montreal, exhibits Villeneuve's work in the exhibition "Les grands maitres canadiens" from January 15 to February 15; participates in exhibition, "Les Naifs", organized by the Junior Associates of the Montreal Museum from April 24 to May 17; Two heart attacks: May 9 and June 22

1970 Exhibition at the Verdun Cultural Centre from October 6 to November 2

1971 Receives $1500 grant from Quebec Department of Cultural Affairs November 21

1972 Receives the Order of Canada;[7] Mireille Galanti-Amiel writes the thesis, "Arthur Villeneuve, artiste peintre" at the University of Montreal [8]

1976 Illustrates the novel Salut Galarneau by Jacques Godbout

1977 Receives a commemorative plaque from the City of Chicoutimi

1990 Dies in Montreal on May 24

1994 Arthur's house at 669 rue Taché ouest is declared a Cultural Heritage site by the community of Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and is moved to the interior of Building 21 at the Chicoutimi museum, "La Pulperie". The house and several paintings are on permanent exhibition at La Pulperie to this day.


  1. ^ Micheline Marion, Une maison pas comme les autres. Saint-Nazaire: Les Editions JCL inc, 1984. See pages 20-23.
  2. ^ Jean-Louis Gagnon, Arthur Villeneuve: Le Génial. Published by the author.
  3. ^ "Biography, Arthur Villeneuve (1910-1990)". Francophone Artists of Canada, Gestures and Words. Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  4. ^ See Une Maison pas comme les autres pp. 25–38.
  5. ^ a b c Pierre Demers, "La Vie Simple du Peintre Arthur Villeneuve: Tete dans la legende et pieds sur terre." Perspectives: Le Quotidien du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean: Vol. 20 No. 7, February 18, 1978.
  6. ^ Bill Bantey and Françoise Saint-Michel (editors), Les Chroniques du Quebec: Arthur Villeneuve. Montreal: Gazette Printing Company (Ltd), 1972.
  7. ^ "Joseph Arthur Villeneuve, C.M." The Governor General of Canada website. Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  8. ^ Micheline Marion, Une maison pas comme les autres. Saint-Nazaire: Les Editions JCL inc, 1984.

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