This painting, signed AUDY in the bottom right, is a copy produced by the artist/painter seven years after the death of its subject.

We know that there is a portrait similar in almost all respects that belongs to the collections of the Musée des Ursulines de Québec. Furthermore, the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (MNBAQ) owns an original work created by American artist/painter John James, produced in 1824-1825, which might have inspired the copyists. On this painting from the MNBAQ, we notice that the subject is captured from further away and that the scene depicted offers a wider field of view, which makes it possible to see a few elements of the setting in which Msgr. Joseph-Octave Plessis posed for James. We can clearly distinguish the chair on which he is sitting; to his right, a table is covered with a cloth, and Msgr. Plessis is holding a document in his hands. This painting bears the inventory number 1976.153.

The MNBAQ also owns three other oil paintings, this time identified as copies from unknown artists, with the indication “from John James.” These depict the subject closer up. It is mentioned that one of these paintings is a copy of Joseph Légaré, while another was donated by Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec to the MNBAQ. These are much more similar to the one from the Ursulines or the one owned by the Musée Pierre-Boucher.

Let us speak a little about the subject, Monseigneur Joseph-Octave Plessis. Before being consecrated as the 11th bishop, then the 1st archbishop of the Diocese of Québec, he followed a well-marked path. Born in 1763 in Montreal, Joseph was the son of a blacksmith. His siblings included 17 brothers and sisters. At school, he already stood out. He enrolled in the Séminaire de Québec in 1778 and was ordained as a priest in 1786.

Father Joseph-Octave Plessis constantly gained experience and knew how to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to him brilliantly, including as parish priest of Notre-Dame de Québec. He was also called upon to work with the major civil or political figures of Quebec City. He was consecrated as bishop in 1806. Among his concerns was the lack of priests in his diocese, so he successively opened a few seminaries in the region.

The people around him recognized his influence. He even went to Rome to plead his case.

In 1819, Plessis became archbishop. Driven yet cautious by nature, an authoritarian yet a fine strategist, Plessis knew how to negotiate with anyone, obtain support, and manage all the aspects and difficulties that arose in his archdiocese.

Suffering from rheumatism and blood circulation problems in his legs since 1816-1817, Plessis’ health gradually deteriorated. He died in December 1825, but not without having attempted to guarantee the candidacy of Father Pierre-Flavien Turgeon for the position of coadjutor bishop to Msgr. Bernard-Claude Panet, who would succeed him and become the 2nd archbishop of Quebec. However, Turgeon declined, and it was Joseph Signay, parish priest of Quebec, who would be appointed coadjutor bishop.

With respect to the artist, Jean-Baptiste Roy-Audy, he was born on November 15, 1778, in Quebec City. His mother, Marguerite Gauvreau, died in July 1779. His father, Jean-Baptiste (also known as Jean) kept his son close to him, especially since he lived with his brother Pierre. Jean-Baptiste Ody (Audy) Sr. was a carpenter. The son would also become a carpenter, as well as a painter. The latter also learned his first trade in his father’s workshop.

Jean-Baptiste Jr. also took drawing lessons from François Baillairgé. A friendly relationship bound these two families.

He also made signs and lettering. Upon the death of his father in 1811, Jean-Baptiste was responsible for settling the estate. He gradually abandoned carpentry work to devote himself fully to painting. In his workshop in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Roy-Audy improved his artistic training by copying paintings, some of which came from the collection of European works sent to Lower Canada by Father Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins (1753-1833), a French Catholic priest.

In his biography on Desjardins, Claude Galarneau describes this collection in these terms in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: “[Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins] bought a collection of pictures, which has borne his name ever since, from a ruined Parisian banker who had himself purchased them from the state. These paintings by masters came from churches in Paris that had been pillaged during the revolution. Wishing to furnish the objets d’art so noticeably absent in Canadian churches, Desjardins sent out nearly 200 paintings, which arrived at Quebec in 1817.”

Also in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Michel Cauchon, who wrote the biography of the carpenter and artist/painter, describes his talent in these terms:
“Jean-Baptiste Roy-Audy’s art was above all naïve, and therein lies its interest. The artist did not master all the techniques of painting, such as perspective, anatomy, foreshortening, and composition. Some of these technical problems obviously diminished when he was doing copies, which constitute the greater part of his religious production. But in portraiture he had to rely solely on his own talent. His instinct as a naïve painter led him to search for the spirit of his subjects and, guided by his elementary sense as a craftsman, he was able, despite his limited technical means, to seize their underlying personality with considerable success.”

In the 1831 Canadian census, Jean-Baptiste Roy-Audy, artist, married, still lives on Rue Saint-Georges (now Rue Hébert) in Quebec City with his family: his wife, Julie Vézina (1784-1864), married on July 27, 1802, in the Notre-Dame de Québec parish. At that time, the couple had two children, a boy and a girl, Marie Marguerite Alphonsine.

The Quebec Gazette published on November 9, 1837, mentions the upcoming sale of plots of land in the Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures parish, including one belonging to Roy-Audy, artist, said to be from Montreal.

After 1838, mystery surrounds Roy-Audy’s life, career, and even death. He was not present at his daughter’s first wedding to carpenter Philippe Édouard Martin in Quebec City in 1845; nor was Julie Vézina. Jean-Baptiste Roy-Audy is not mentioned at Marie Marguerite Alphonsine’s second wedding in Trois-Rivières in November 1852 either, when, after becoming a widow, she married Louis Onésime Beaufort dit Brunelle. With respect to Julie Vézina, Roy-Audy’s widow, she was living with her daughter and son-in-law in Trois-Rivières when she died in 1864.

It is therefore likely that Jean-Baptiste Roy-Audy may have died in the Trois-Rivières area between 1838 and 1852.

Musée Pierre-Boucher Collection
1977 60 P