Our trip down to Montréal two weekends ago was not for the happiest of reasons – we were interring Laurent’s mother’s ashes in the family plot and hosting a farewell reception that his father had requested rather than a funeral – but none the less it was an occasion of some pleasure. Pleasure at seeing family and friends we had not seen since the last family funeral or wedding and spending time reminiscing, laughing and getting a little misty-eyed with the Beaulieu-Gougeon-Ostergren clan as we celebrated both Rollande and Denis’s lives.
Another pleasure of the weekend was visiting with our friend Michel. We were trying to work out how long we’ve known each other and figure that it’s been almost 40 years; Laurent knew him from University and I met him a bit later through our much loved and greatly missed friend Jim Asplin. Michel has always astounded me with his wit, his ability to make jokes in French and English, his breadth of knowledge and his incredible taste. I’m not sure where his sense of style comes from but it is there in spades and a visit to his apartment always reveals some new treasure.
I hadn’t seen his current apartment so there was much that was “new” to me but what caught my eye was a collage portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Montréal artist André Monet. Monet had been commissioned to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee following his engagement portraits of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2010. His technique is very unusual in that he uses photographs, text and images from magazines, newspapers and documents and acrylic paint to create portraits of both the celebrities and any person whose face catches his fancy.
I asked Michel to give me some information on the painting (for it is indeed a painting) and this is what he wrote:
Each piece is unique. He starts by doing a collage of old newspapers and books over which he paints the portrait based on famous photographs and then varnishing, the traits of his characters are recreated with such precision that one might see a realistic photography arising from a distance. But it is indeed painted (if you look a the original photograph, it is somewhat different) and not photocopied so to speak.
And because they are unique the portrait in Michel’s living room speaks directly to him in several ways.
The map that was used to create one of the collage areas shows the South Shore of the Fleuve Saint-Laurent close to where Michel has his family roots.
In 2012 Michel was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work and Monet has included a portion of the official document confirming the honour as an element of the collage.
And as his inspiration Monet used the 1951 photograph of Princess Elizabeth taken by Yousuf Karsh during her first visit to Canada. It was one of the many photographs that he was to take of Princess and then Queen Elizabeth over the years – they have appeared on stamps, banknotes and been reproduced in countless books.
It wasn’t until Michel mentioned it that I realized that this is one of those portraits where the eyes follow you. I had hoped there would be a name for that particular phenomena but though there are several explanations about how it happens it appears there is no term in painting to cover it.
From the Queen Mom’s House
As a sidebar I noticed a rather attractive decanter in front of the portrait and on closer examination I saw that it bore the engraving: Glamis Castle.
Now as any one who has read Shakespeare can tell you that is where a good deal of the bloody action takes place in the Scottish Play. And as any royal watcher can also confirm it was the residence of the family of Elizabeth Bowles Lyon – better known as the Queen Mom. It was indeed a gift from the Queen Mother and I’m sure there is a story behind it but that will have to wait for another time.