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chemin en hiver , 1916 (figure 5.3), exemplifies the mixture of styles and
themes, especially winter, that such a list of acquaintances and places
might suggest. 13
The spectator is immediately struck, of course, by the radical juxta-
position of the foreground - representing the cultural place of the cross
and scattered farm buildings on the Cap-aux-Corbeaux, some 500 feet
above the valley - and the middle ground, depicting the village of Baie-
Saint-Paul surrounded by mountains, which meld into the sky in the
far ground. We are not far, geographically and thematically, from Marie-
Victorin's designation of the central place occupied by the cross in his
description of the île-aux-Coudres, just across the river. In Gagnon's
painting, the topographical separation is enhanced by the horizontal
composition of the far ground, cut by the vertical thrust of the cross in
the near ground. The two planes are further differentiated by the use of
shadow in the foreground - which enables Gagnon to explore a range
of cold tones, especially blues - and sunlight in the middle and far
grounds, which creates an array of warmer hues running from white,
through yellow, to orange; the latter, as the complementary colour of
blue, fosters a shimmering effect by juxtaposition with it, an effect
termed 'Impressionist' by several critics. 14
More typical of Gagnon's definitive style than Impressionism, how-
ever, is the solid depiction of the foreground, with the rectilinear forms
of the cross and buildings contrasting both with the winding curves of
the road and rickety fence and with the diagonal lines of the arms of the
cross and the slope of the terrain. Moreover, in this part of the painting
Gagnon favours an opposition of distinct colours, such as the reds in
the sleigh and buildings set against the complementary dark green of
the shutters and trees, in contrast with the pastel-like unity of the far
ground. May we not hypothesize that, while the Impressionist style
was well-suited for suggesting the shimmering snows of winter and
the blazing hues of autumn, Gagnon found it just too ephemeral to cap-
ture the solidity of the French-Canadian farmhouse and cross, and thus
of the people they stand for.
In his later paintings (chapter six), Gagnon's colours become more
intense and his use of lines more prominent, causing him to abandon
his Impressionist side, as Hélène Sicotte notes: 'Sa prédilection pour
le dessin et les formes décoratives l'incitera à délaisser les effets
d'atmosphère et les jeux de lumière au profit d'une peinture d'aspect
plus lisse et bidimensionnelle.' (124; His predilection for drawing
and decorative forms will incite him to abandon atmospheric effects
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