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the handling of light, colour, atmosphere, and movement, 3 Impressionism
seems ideally suited to representing not only the topography but espe-
cially the transformations specific to the North-American landscape due
to seasonal changes: hence the coupling of Impressionism and national-
ism for many French-Canadian painters and writers of the early twenti-
eth century. In some cases, especially in painting, one can speak of direct
influence, since, as Dennis Reid points out, 'by 1890 virtually every artist
of note under the age of thirty aspired to study in the French capital' ( A
Concise History , 91). In other cases, innovation stems, rather, from the
confrontation with an increasingly complex world, from a multifaceted
and dynamic perspective, as is the case with the writings of Frère Marie-
Victorin, a self-proclaimed conservative nationalist, 4 whose writings are,
nonetheless, in many respects remarkably modern.
Croquis laurentiens
That the renowned scientist Frère Marie-Victorin, professor of botany at
the Université de Montréal and founder of its Institut Botanique as well
as the Montreal Botanical Gardens, would choose to write a literary text
with a title borrowed from painting ( croquis = sketches) suggests the
degree to which he sees the two art forms as complementary. Indeed, at
various points in his Croquis laurentiens (1920), Marie-Victorin equates
the poet and the painter (38, 239), regrets not being a painter (106), and
exhorts the painters of his land to choose the very regional subjects that
he is 'painting' verbally (158).
Marie-Victorin's Croquis describe his impressions of various aspects of
the Laurentian landscape, beginning with the region near Montreal, with
which we are already familiar through the works of Cartier , 5 Champlain,
and Garneau (chapter one), not to mention Beaugrand (chapter two) and
Lacombe (chapter three). Limited by the practical concerns of discovery,
settlement, and historical accuracy on the one hand, and slanted by a
vivid imagination coloured by humour or poverty on the other, these
previous descriptions seem simple in comparison with those of Marie-
Victorin, who begins his depiction of 'La montagne de Belœil' by laying
out the overall setting in geological terms:
Bubons volcaniques, bavures éruptives marquant la ligne de faiblesse dans
l'écorce de la vieille planète, les Montérégiennes ont résisté mieux que les
argilites environnantes à l'inéluctable travail d'érosion qui remodèle sans
cesse la face de la terre. Elles s'élèvent maintenant au-dessus de la grande
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