Sherbrooke church to sell artwork despite concerns from art historians

A parish in Sherbrooke is putting a century-old work of art on sale to raise money for ongoing repairs despite concerns from local art historians about the art leaving the region.

Work of Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, which belongs to St-Jean-Baptiste Church, dates back to 1913

La vieille église de Sherbrooke-Est par temps de neige, by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté, belongs to the St-Jean-Baptiste parish in Sherbrooke. It will be auctioned off to raise money for the church's heritage fund to help pay for repairs. ( Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke)

A parish in Sherbrooke, Que., is putting a century-old work of art on sale to raise money for ongoing repairs despite concerns from local art historians about the art leaving the region. 

The painting in question is La vieille église de Sherbrooke-Est par temps de neige, painted by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté in 1913. Suzor-Coté is an important artist from Quebec. He was born in Victoriaville in 1869 and worked in sculpting and painting.

St-Jean-Baptiste Church is 110 years old, and like many old churches across Quebec it needs expensive repairs — $2 million over the next five years. The provincial government is covering a large part of the cost, but the parish still needs to raise roughly $300,000. 

Denis Cournoyer, rector at St- Jean-Baptiste parish, said not only does the parish need to find other sources of money, but the insurance costs for the painting are too high.

"The money will be useful to keep our church better, that's why we made this decision," he said. 
Denis Cournoyer, the rector at St- Jean-Baptiste parish in Sherbrooke, says he wishes the painting could stay in the community. (Radio Canada)

Cournoyer said the painting has been evaluated at $150,000. The money they get from the sale will go into the parish's heritage fund to pay for ongoing repairs and maintenance for the church. 

The painting was on display at the parish in a quiet spot with few people seeing it. A couple of years ago, parish officials looked into its value and decided it should be kept somewhere more secure. It has been at the Musée des beaux-arts in Sherbrooke for the past two years. 

At first the church consulted the City of Sherbrooke, the museum and the university to see if they were interested in buying the work. But it had no takers.

'I'd like to see it stay in Sherbrooke,' rector says 

Monique Nadeau-Saumier is an art historian and one of several people who recently signed a letter to the editor in the local newspaper calling for the work to stay in Sherbrooke. 

"It makes me sad, because when art is sent through the big auction houses such as Heffel, it can go anywhere," Nadeau-Saumier said. 

Cournoyer said if people want to keep the painting in the region, local art lovers should come together and try to buy it. 

"I'd like to see it stay in Sherbrooke," he said.

The work will be auctioned by Heffel at its Vancouver branch on May 25. Beforehand, it will be on display at the Heffel Montreal gallery May 5, 6 and 7 as well as in the Heffel Toronto gallery before it is shipped to Vancouver for the auction. 

Suzor-Coté has been recognized by the National Art Gallery of Canada, the Library and National Archives of Quebec among others. He was influenced by European impressionism and was particularly drawn to rural scenes from the Arthabaska region where he grew up.


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