Whether on a small scale or a large, no sculptor has proved more dedicated to capturing Canada’s founding fathers than Louis-Philippe Hebert (1850-1917). Among his monumental sculptures, you will find representations of Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George-Etienne Cartier and Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley—all Fathers of Confederation. Hebert also created large statues of a notable opponent of confederation, Joseph Howe, and of Canada’s second Prime Minister, Alexander Mackenzie. The Macdonald, Cartier and Mackenzie monuments stand on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The others reside in eastern Canadian cities: Tilley’s in Saint John, and Howe’s in Halifax.
Though he crafted these statues on a monumental scale, Hebert’s own origins were humble. He was born and raised in rural Lower Canada—now Quebec—and only gained experience of the big city at age twenty-three, when he became apprenticed to Montreal artist Napoleon Bourassa. Six years later, Louis-Philippe went into business as a sculptor on his own, and after a further couple of years he was selected to fashion the Cartier monument. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between Montreal and Paris, where his family spent extended periods while he studied others’ techniques and refined his own.
In 1971 the Saint-Jean Baptiste Society named an award after the great sculptor: Prix Louis-Philippe Hebert, which recognizes excellence in Quebecois visual arts. And a major 2001-02 exhibition of his works at the National Gallery of Canada honoured Hebert as "Canada’s first commemorative sculptor and a key figure in the history of Canadian art."
Along with statuettes of the other Fathers and political figures, three small statues of Sir John A Macdonald appear among Hebert’s creations on The Canada Site, an online exhibit of Canadian collectibles. The Macdonald statues are the same in size—75 cm tall—but differ in finish. One is painted cream colour; another is painted to resemble bronze. Hebert’s plaster statues have become rarities, partly owing to their fragility. But besides having succumbed to accidents over time, many were apparently broken on purpose by antique dealers who reasoned that the prevalence of plaster figures reduced the value of versions actually cast in bronze.
The third statue on display stands out as an anomaly. Here Sir John A.’s clothes and shoes have been repainted appropriate colours, along with the scroll he bears, but his face, neck and hands have been rendered unrealistically in black. Accompanying text on The Canada Site surmises that the statue was "painted by a Liberal who thought John A. was a blackguard." This suggestion is not necessarily so tongue in cheek as it sounds, for some present-day Canadians consider Macdonald precisely such a wrongdoer.
For further information:
The Canada Site: http://thecanadasite.com/art/art35b_hebert2.html
Louis-Philippe Hebert exhibition details, National Gallery of Canada: http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/exhibitions/past/details/louis-philippe-hebert-230