“Alexander Henderson. Art and Nature”: Quebec under the weather and snow

Quebec’s history is revealed on the fragile albumen paper that coats McCord’s rooms: it’s the black and white of the wooden houses erected on the streets of Saguenay on the 19the The century of the tent-dwelling Ainu near Mingan, and the century of ice-cutting activities on Ile Saint Helens, near Montreal.

These photos are of Alexander Henderson, to whom the McCord Museum is dedicated a retrospective Alexander Henderson. art and nature Both historians and photographers cherish them. However, the man remains largely unknown to the general public.

Arriving in Montreal from Scotland with his new wife in 1855, this trained accountant, from the Scottish lower middle class, found an ideal ground to practice his art. Free from wealth, passionate about hunting and fishing, he photographed Quebec, in particular, but also Canada, as he pleased.

Henderson learned the basics of photography in Montreal with another well-known Scottish photographer, William Notman. While Notman specialized in portraiture, Henderson had a passion for landscapes, particularly winter landscapes, which he rendered in all their glory. The two men belonged to the small group, of which only a French Canadian was a member, that founded the Montreal Arts Society, which has since become the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

He shoots the European way, mixing romance and picturesqueness, as the museum’s outgoing curator of photography, Helen Samson, explains. For her, Henderson practiced his art with colonial eyes, inspired by the European currents of the time, but also seeking recognition there rather than here. He will also win several landscape photography awards.

“He has his own mentality, he is someone who has trained in Scotland and will come here, to a colony of the British Empire,” she said. He looks at the Canada he arrives in through the glasses of British settlers. Hence, it is also colonial art, because its style, style and compositions are very characteristic of European art. European technical reference. […]. First, it seeks recognition in Europe. »

However, here, his photos are taken as close as possible to nature. The canoe, made by Aboriginal people, is one of his favorite subjects, and his photographs document the many river cruises made by Aboriginal people. A frequenter of the Canadian upper class, Henderson took a trip on the Molsons yacht and thus visited the Lower North Shore with its isolated villages. It makes for amazing winter landscapes. Like people climbing the Sugar Loaf, in front of Montmorency Falls, or doing slithering activities on Mount Royal. A whole series of photos is about frost.

missing background

Revealing another era, his photographs allow a layer of history to take shape before our eyes, like a fading backdrop to contemporary Quebec City.

In love with Turner and Wilson, Henderson is also distinguished by his technical knowledge. Centuries before Photoshop, he superimposed negatives so we could see clouds in a place where the sky’s brightness wouldn’t allow for that on a single negative.

Most of the images shown in this gallery are modest in size. In fact, it is the size of a negative, since the artist did not have zoom equipment at that time. Moreover, all the negatives of his work have been destroyed, which makes his periodical photographs even more valuable.

The 200 objects that make up the exhibition, including 140 photographs, come primarily from the museum’s collection, which has been built up over the years, first with David Ross McCord, founder of the institution, and then with pieces from the collection of the latter’s descendant of Henderson.

With the publication of a book accompanying the exhibition, the McCord Museum hopes to update the artist. There you’ll find reproductions of 170 photographs as well as a biography of the artist signed by Stanley J. Triggs, McCord’s former curator, to whom the museum says it owes the guarantee of a collection of about 2,000 photographs of Henderson.

Several activities, round tables and workshops will be organized this fall as part of the fair.

Alexander Henderson. art and nature

McCord Museum, June 10, 2022 – April 16, 2023.

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