Portrait de Joseph Giunta
Huile sur panneau
Oil on panel
25 x 20,5 cm
| The 1930’s were
when Joseph Giunta finished his training and began to
make his very first débuts in the painter’s
profession. The particular social and artistic environment
of this period was at the source of influences that would
prove decisive during the first years of production.
The first word for this uneasy
decade that comes to mind is, obviously, “crisis”.
At the time, Quebec was a partly rural society, as nearly
forty percent of its population lived from agriculture.
Consequently, moral, religious, economic and even aesthetic
values were strongly attached to the theme of the earth,
which was associated with nationalist concerns. Economic
policies that promoted accelerated industrialization,
the exploitation of natural resources and changes to education
thus collided with the patriotism of French Canadians
The major economic crisis triggered by the Crash of October
29, 1929, was a brutal blow to a society faithful to rural
and traditional values. As a producer of farm products
and pulp and paper, Canada was strongly affected, and
suffered a chain reaction leading to the successive downfall
of such sectors as goods and services.(2)
Economic consequences soon mutated into an immense social and political
instability that broke many individuals’ academic or professional
careers – a fortiori artistic ones.(3)
However, the 30s were also marked by the shock of ideas
that occasionally crystallized in their extreme forms.
Between the conservatives and those advocating the reform
of the economic and social system, there opened up a terrain
auspicious to novelty that was matched in intellectual
and artistic domains.
Equally affected by the Crisis,
the cultivated public interested in art gathered in the
cities. Whatever faction, anglophone or francophone, this
public was characterized by a staunch conservatism that
was opposed to the «adventure» (4) of the artistic modernity emerging on the horizon, with
ideas and actions inspired by the European context. In
the absence of government support and with collectors
diverted by the Crisis, artists had difficulty selling
their work. For some, proposing changes and innovations
implied, for the time being, total isolation.
In fact, economic circumstances maintained the conservative
taste of rare buyers interested in the landscape tradition.
Moreover, nature scenes coincided with a certain nationalistic
devotion that, in literature for example, advocated a
return to the earth, whereas the city would be, as we
know, a theme of the modernity to come. Painters like
Maurice Cullen, James Wilson Morrice and Clarence Gagnon
favoured a post-impressionist treatment of themes of the
land. Other painters, on the contrary, like Adrien Hébert,
preferred the representation of the city, a subject more
in keeping with modern reality. The opposition between
national-identity painting and that of formal experimentation
belonging to pictorial self-reference amounted to quite
a “catching up” with regard to the European
situation, which had much earlier witnessed the birth
of modernity as a rupture with academism.(5)
The war, in fact, accelerated aesthetic changes by bringing
about the arrival of intellectuals and European artists,
and forcing certain exiles to come back, including Alfred
Pellan, who caused an uproar with his exhibition in 1940.
As for Joseph Giunta, he got through the Crisis, busy
shaping his youthful training with figuration inspired
by both landscape and the city, yet with a freedom and
texture that announced an entry into modernity.