Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Antoine-Sébastien Falardeau


[This text was written in 1938. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]

FALARDEAU, ANTOINE-SEBASTIEN (1822-1889) painter, was born on 13 August 1822, at Petit Bois de l'Ail, near Cap-Santé, Lower Canada, the second son of Joseph Falardeau, a farmer, by his wife, Isabelle Savard. He was descended paternally from Guillaume Follardeau, who came to Canada in 1692 as a soldier with the Sieur Saint-Jean. Sometime after his arrival he gave up his profession and settled at St. Ambroise, near Quebec City. Falardeau's father fought with Col. de Salaberry's volunteers at Chateauguay. At the age of eight the young artist started school and his facility in drawing became the despair of his teachers. He found the same lack of sympathy for his youthful talent at home where his father punished him severely for wasting his time making sketches, which he coloured rather well with the juice of beets and of wild berries. Unhappy and ambitious, the boy determined to leave home, and one day in his fourteenth summer set out on foot for Quebec City. Arrived there he worked at a succession of jobs, meanwhile frequenting night classes in art. For two years he studied under Mr. Todd and also made the acquaintance of a Corsican miniature painter, Signore Tassio, who wished to teach him painting and Italian. Shortly after the Quebec fire, he entered the house of the brothers Hamel as a bookkeeper. But he was restless, and the return of M. Théophile Hamel from Europe crystallized his longing to study abroad. Finally in the summer of 1846 the Hamels raised a subscription among their friends sufficient to send the young aspirant to Europe . He set sail from New York with 104 pounds in his pocket and letters of introduction from the Hon. R. E. Caron and from Hamel.


After an uncomfortable crossing, Falardeau reached Marseilles, where he lay ill for days. On reaching Florence he hastened to search out Hamel's friend, only to discover that he had been dead for two months. However, he obtained entrée to the Academy of Fine Arts through the intervention of Sir George Hamilton in whose secretary, Mr. Archibald Scarlett, be found a staunch friend. Professor Gazzarini also did him service in securing for him a pass to the Uffizi Gallery. Meanwhile he was working assiduously under conditions of extreme privation. For a year and a half he lived in a garret subsisting solely on bread and milk. Then came the revolution of 1848 bringing more trouble. Falardeau had refused to serve in the civil guard and for this independence of action was barred from the Academy. One day as he was walking down the street a band of revolutionaries set upon him crying, "Down with the Austrian". Only the timely arrival of the police on the scene saved him. While refused admission to the Academy, Falardeau had been studying with Gazzarini and Calendi; subsequent to the Battle of Novara he was reinstated.


In the following year M. G. Lamothe of Montreal gave Falardeau an order to paint his and his wife's portraits. From then on his fortune improved. He spent seven months at Leghorn exhibiting at the bureau for amateurs. Here an unfortunate accident overtook him when he nearly lost his life by drowning - being taken out of the water insensible. He returned to Florence richer by 140 dollars and about the same time sold 150 dollars worth of paintings to an American. He was beginning to taste success - his reputation was travelling [sic]. In 1851 he toured Italy , visiting Milan, Bologna, Parma, Venice, Rome, Naples and making a study of the best works of the varied schools of art as well as of the old masters. On his departure for Bologna the Marchioness Manucci-Benincasa gave him a letter of introduction to the Count dei Bianchi who in turn commended him to Baron Soldato of Parma .


In the same year the English government offered a large sum to the museum at Parma for the " Saint Jerome " of Correggio. The museum, wishing to retain at least a copy of the original, declared a competition as the best means of securing a worthy copy. Falardeau entered the contest and while at Parma in December started work on his canvas. When it became known, crowds frequented the museum to watch the progress of the work. On its completion the Academy was unanimous in awarding Falardeau first place. However, the original never left Parma, and sometime later the artist presented his copy to the Duke of Parma, who created him a Cavaliere del Ordine di San Luigi. Thus his social as well as his financial success seemed to be assured. He was a welcome guest at the salon of the Marchioness Strozzi where he met Toschi, director of the royal theatre at Parma , and Lopez who was one of his patrons.


With poverty and hardship behind him, Falardeau began to enjoy life. His success became a topic of interest in his native land and every Canadian of consequence travelling in Italy visited him. His palatial studio at 1325 Via dei Bardi was tastefully and expensively furnished in fifteenth century style. Many of the pieces dated back to the time of the Florentine republic and some were derived from private families, as the Strozzi and the Medici. The crystal, silver, and hangings were all in keeping with the fine old furniture. There were in all six galleries: the first devoted to copies of the old masters, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, Guido, Rubens, Vandyke, Titian, Paul Veronese, Sir Joshua Reynolds; the second to small paintings of the Flemish and Dutch schools; the third and fourth to copies of the various Italian schools, in particular, the Florentine - Raphael's "Madonna", Guido's "Christ on the Cross", Franceschini's "Death of St. Joseph" and Leonardo de Vinci's "Judith" and landscapes of Salvator Rosa and Claude Lorrain; the last two galleries also to the old masters, Spagnoletto's "Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew", Cortona's "Apollo and Marsias", Baroccio's "Baptism of Jesus", and collections of still life after Lopez.


In 1852 he suffered a virulent attack of yellow fever from which he took a long time to recover, convalescing in Leghorn. In the following year his pet cat went mad and bit him, and he very nearly died of hydrophobia. For two years the cholera scourged Italy and in 1858 Falardeau took a painting trip through the Appennines copying masterpieces wherever he found them; he sold each of the twenty-five pictures done on this trip. On 23 April 1862 he left Florence to pay his first visit to his native land since leaving it. Quebec City tendered him a great ovation and Louis Fréchette composed an address for the occasion. The following August saw him back in Florence. He last visited Canada in 1882, when he presented his copy of Salvator Rosa's "Conspiration of Catiline" to the National Gallery, Ottawa. He had made a European tour visiting Russia , Germany , Holland and France in 1872. At St. Petersburg the museum purchased some of his pictures and the Czar conferred on him the Order of St. Vladimer. The Duke of Tuscany had created him Cavaliere Toscano in 1855.


As an artist Falardeau should be rated chiefly as a competent technician and draughtsman; little of his work was truly creative. His copy work was probably unexcelled at the time - his rendering of the tone, atmosphere and spirit of the old masters was so convincing that it was said to involve expert knowledge and discrimination to tell which was the copy and which the original. He was a conscientious and determined worker. Even at the height of his popularity he followed a strict routine. He worked in his studio in the mornings and no one was admitted during his working hours; but from three o'clock until six he received guests, and there was no more cordial host. His courtesy and charm, delight in displaying and explaining the treasures which he had collected, and his keen interest in visiting artists were proverbial. He amassed a considerable fortune in Italy after arriving there unknown and almost penniless - however, the time was propitious. Florence was then the seat of the government and a great many visitors passed through it. Falardeau's studio gradually assumed the character of a sales gallery; he became fashionable. A picturesque and colourful figure, his lasting claim to distinction probably lies in the fact that he was the first Canadian artist to achieve substantial success abroad.


Falardeau died on 14 July 1889. He was returning to Florence from his country home in Fiesole when his horse shied on the bridge hurling him over the broken parapet into the Mugnone. His body was recovered from the river by the Brothers of Mercy. His wife, Catherine, daughter of the Marquis of Manucci-Benincasa, of an old and illustrious Florentine family, whom he married on 17 September 1861, survived him. They were the parents of one son, Améric-Laurent who died in childhood; and two daughters, Dianora-Isabella (la Signora Pietro Carraresi) and Christina-Anna. Falardeau was buried with the rites of the Roman Catholic church, in the cemetery adjoining the Basilica of San-Miniato at Florence, Italy.


[A. H. Robson, Can. Landscape Painters, Toronto, 1932; Bibaud, Panthéon Can., 1891; Morgan, Celebrated Canadians, 1862; E. de Rives, Le Chevalier Falardeau, Quebec, 1862; Émile Falardeau, Un Maître de la Peinture, Montreal, 1936; private information.]


Source: O. M., "Antoine-Sébastien Falardeau", in Charles G. D. ROBERTS and Arthur L. TUNNELL, A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Canadian Who Was Who , Vol. 2, Toronto , Trans Canada Press, 1938, pp. 143-145.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College