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Three Studios Prominent in Canada:

Nincheri, McCausland, Rault

 

 

Guido Nincheri

Montréal, Québec

 

Guido Nincheri (1885 – 1973) may well be the most important religious artist in Canadian history. His work shows him to be a renaissance man in both the enormous range of his output, and in the continuance of Italian Renaissance traditions in his murals, architecture and stained glass.

Born in the Tuscan city of Prato, Nincheri showed early artistic talent and won awards at the venerable Academy of Fine Arts in Florence where he studied drawing, painting and sculpture. After graduating from the Academia, Nincheri continued in Florence for several more years, studying the city’s celebrated art and architecture. After a short period in Boston, where he worked on the decoration of the Opera House, he and his young wife immigrated to Montreal in 1914.

Over the next five decades Nincheri became the most important liturgical artist in Quebec, and perhaps the most prolific religious artist in North America. He produced an astonishing range of work in many mediums: as well as stained glass he created monumental frescos, bronze and marble sculpture, and substantial architectural collaborations. With large and important works in well over a hundred buildings in Canada and New England, Nincheri has been called “the Michelangelo of Canada.”

After he arrived in Montreal, Nincheri was hired by Quebec's leading church decorator of the day, Henri Perdriau, who introduced him to the craft of fired and leaded glass. Stained glass was not part of the Florentine art tradition, but Nincheri quickly understood the complexities of the medium. He soon started his own liturgical art studio and by 1924 had embarked on a decade-long project of 125 windows for the Cathedral of the Assumption in Trois-Rivieres.

Over the next fifty years he created some five thousand stained glass windows in nine Canadian provinces and several American states. In some large churches the entire design was his, including the architecture, murals, liturgical objects and, of course, the windows. His legacy of fifteen churches in Montreal includes outstanding creations at Saint Léon of Westmount, Sainte-Madeleine d'Outremont, Très-Saint-Rédempteur and Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire; in Ottawa, Notre Dame Cathedral, Ste. Theresa, St. Patrick’s Basilica and St Anthony’s. Many more of his works are in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimeprovinces, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In Western Canada, his glass can be seen at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton, Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver, and St. John the Baptist in Estevan, Saskatchewan.

Nincheri’s stained glass style is unmistakable. His technique is in the mode of Italian Renaissance painting: dramatic and dynamic but resolutely realistic, at least by 20th century standards. The three-dimensional modeling of his figures is uncommon in stained glass, but Nincheri had the luxury of live models, including his wife Giulia, and sometimes his studio colleagues. His broad colour palette can seem overwhelming until you find the subtleties. A characteristic technique is the depiction of boldly rendered rays, emitting symmetrically from sacred figures like Jesus, Mary and the Angels. His border ornamentation is fresh and harmonious.

Nincheri employed skilled Italian and French Canadian artists who remained with him for decades, including Matteo Martirano, his friend and collaborator, who continued the stained glass studio for more than twenty years after Nincheri’s death in 1973.

Nincheri received many honours both in Canada and abroad. He was the pride of Montreal’s Italian community, and was knighted by the Italian government in 1972; in 1933 Pope Pius XI honoured him as one of the Church's great religious artists; Italy declared him a Knight of the Republic; he was made an honorary citizen of Providence, Rhode Island after he had retired there; and posthumously declared a Builder of the City of Montreal.

The Department of Canadian Heritage declared his ensemble at Saint Léon of Westmount in Montréa a National Historical Site. One of his stained glass images in Vancouver was featured on a Christmas postage stamp in 1997.


In 2001 the exhibition “Guido Nincheri: A Florentine Artist in North America” was mounted in Montréal, curated by Ginette Laroche. A handsome catalogue depicting the range of Nincheri’s work was published in English and French versions.

 

Patrick Burns

 

 

Robert McCausland Limited

Toronto, Ontario

"Almost thirty-two thousand windows have been recorded in [the McCausland's] remarkable Letter Book and Day Books, from 1897 to the present. . ."

  

McCausland of Toronto is the oldest surviving stained glass studio in North America.  The founder, Joseph McCausland, was born to Anglican parents in County  Armagh, Ireland in 1828 and came to Toronto with his family in 1835. His early artistic aptitude is revealed in an account he submitted at the age of eleven, for “painting, graining, marbling and varnishing wood and for frosting glass in imitation of ground glass”.

Joseph founded his studio in 1856 and enjoyed immediate success supported by the multitude of churches being built in the burgeoning city and province. The diversity of the firm’s work can be gauged by an early advertisement offering “figures under canopies, memorial windows, coats of arms, ornamental stencilled windows, embossed and enamelled work, landscape windows for halls and stairways, and bent glass”.

Robert McCausland (1856 -1923) was the artist who made the firm’s reputation in stained glass. Robert had returned from extensive study in England and Europe to become the chief designer in the stained glass studio, which was split off from Joseph’s design house across the street. It was briefly called Canada Stained Glass Works before changing to the name it is known by today.

In England, Robert had become well-connected with leading studios and their designers. The McCausland studio benefitted enormously by using artists trained in England, where stained glass had become an enormous and celebrated industry in the last half of the nineteenth century, with many of the most famous artists of the Victorian era vying for projects and prestige. Robert also kept abreast of trends in the United States, in the era when the masters Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge were making radical technical innovations.

 “The possibilities of either style (American or English) are not gauged by individuals or centuries but lend themselves to a thousand and one phrases which will always allure the creative mind,” McCausland wrote to a friend. His stated priorities were always colour, design and painting.

English designers working for McCausland were often members of the British Society of Master Glass Painters. Robert brought a stream of skilled English artisans to Toronto; if they chose not to move to Canada, he would sometimes collaborate with them across the Atlantic. Final cartoons would be sent to Toronto where the McCausland painters, cutters and assemblers would execute the design.  

The studio steadily rose in importance and reputation. Robert became a member of the esteemed Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. McCausland became the preferred Canadian stained glass maker of Anglican and sometimes Roman Catholic churches in Ontario, and in the four Western provinces as they developed from 1870 to 1905. While churches still imported glass from England, McCausland was a most respectable local alternative. In fact, most of the artists employed by the studio over a period of a century were English

Robert’s skill can be judged by the magnificent dome he created in 1885 for the Bank of Montreal in downtown Toronto in, in what was designed to be the most impressive commercial building in the country. The dome, restored a century later by his great-grandson Andrew, is now within the Hockey Hall of Fame. Some of Robert’s collaborations with English artists can be seen at Trinity College, University of Toronto (1886-1888); the Old Town Hall (1897-1899) and the Chancel window at St. Paul’s, Toronto; and the Chancel window at Holy Trinity Anglican in Winnipeg.

 

Robert died in 1923, having established McCausland as the leading glass maker in English Canada. Five generations of McCauslands have overseen the work of the firm: Joseph (active 1850 - 1896); Robert (active 1897 -1923); Alan (active 1923 - 1952); Gordon (active 1952-1968); and Andrew (active 1969 –present).

Some designers worked for McCausland for a time in Toronto then set up successful studios of  their own, like Nathaniel Theodore Lyon and William Meikle (c. 1900-1925), and David Johnson. Johnson, on an installation assignment in Regina in the 1970s, made the decision to stay, and became Saskatchewan’s leading glass artist.

Because of the massive number of their installations across Canada, there is undoubtedly repetition in many cases. Those who have seen The Light of The World window based on William Holman Hunt’s famous painting of 1853--Holman Hunt was recently the subject of an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario--may pause at seeing it for the fifteenth time in yet another church. Yet to survive for a century and a half, a studio must be a business as well as a purveyor of taste, and in business the customer is sometimes right. Parishes often demanded replications of work they had seen elsewhere, and the studio, relieved of costly design time, could accommodate clients with more modest budgets. Their windows were never mass produced, and at least small variations were always made.

When funding and creativity coincide, the McCausland studio has achieved exemplary originality, as with the dome in what is now the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. At St. Mark’s, Niagara-on-the-Lake, (the oldest Anglican church in Ontario), Robert’s lovely "Easter Morn”  is often mistaken for a Tiffany creation, high praise indeed. The Foy window in St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Massey window in St. Andrew’s United, both in Toronto, and the Gildersleeve window in St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Kingston are further demonstrations of McCausland's vision and finesse.

Originality in twentieth century windows by Robert’s descendants may be seen widely: in a trompe l’oeilNativity at St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Saskatoon to the twentieth century figures (including Gandhi and Martin Luther King) at St Andrew’s United, Moose Jaw; and the encyclopedic 2008 work by Andrew at Saints Peter and Paul, Vancouver, depicting dozens of 20th century saints, one with a soccer ball, another a victim of a Nazi concentration camp.

 

Patrick Burns

 

 

Vitraux d'Art E. Rault

Rennes (Brittany) France

 

André Rault (1912-1997) and his brother Paul (1909-1962) of Rennes, Brittany, are considered the master artists of a family that has been producing stained glass in France since the late 1800s.  The atelier has made innumerable restorations and created original designs in thousands of churches; their work can be found throughout the large Departement of Brittany and in other regions of France, and in over one hundred modernist installations in North America.

 

The brothers’ father Emmanuel founded the studio in Rennes in 1898, after apprenticing with the firm of Lecomte et Coline, which he acquired at that time. The Rault style often manifests a fusion of medieval religious imagery with modern feeling, incorporating the deep colours of the Chartres masters with a 20th century directness, along with a freshness that was sometimes lost in the elaborate styles of the 19th century. The Raults’ decorative designs, symbols and faces are more likely to suggest Henri Matisse than William Morris.

 

The Rault brothers were born in Rennes, the leading city of Northwestern France, and like their father, became maître verriers according to an ancient French formula: apprenticeship, and formal training at the School of Fine Arts in Rennes, where Paul Gauguin was a local hero.

The Rault brothers’ distinguished accomplishments began early, with independent projects, and also collaborations, such as one in Paris with Maurice Denis (c.1930). As young men they were named Best Stained Glass Makers in France at Paris expositions, in 1932 and again in 1937. Elements of 20th-century art movements including Expressionism and Art Deco are common in their work.  In addition to typical figurative works demanded by clients they also created semi-abstract and non-figurative designs. Their modern versions of medieval Christian symbolism are especially noteworthy.

The Raults made major restorations in many of the great churches of France after both the First and Second World Wars. This extensive exposure to the rich history of French glass technique, in which ancient glass was required to be authentically replicated beginning with sand itself,  led them to a deep understanding of the technical and artistic practices necessary to achieve a wide variety of styles and effects.  Business boomed after the Second World War, and a large building was constructed on Place Hoche in central Rennes to accommodate the studios, furnaces and workshops. In 1947 the E. Rault Studio had grown to 98 employees, from designers and artists to furnace workers, glass-blowers and assemblers.

 

As French churches regained their composure in the late 1940s, the Raults looked abroad for clients:  Canada presented an opportunity. In Montreal the prominent church supply house of Desmarais & Robitaille became their agent in Eastern Canada. A boom in Catholic church-building was underway, and through the 1950s, over 30 installations, costing as much as 15 million francs, were completed in Montreal, Quebec City, Louiseville, Yamachiche, Chicoutimi, Amos and other towns.  Work was commissioned in Ontario and the Maritime provinces, as well as in Massachusetts, New York State and Vermont.

In Western Canada, Burns-Hanley Church Supplies of Regina, Saskatchewan represented Rault Fréres, as the company was known at that time. Every year, from 1949 to 1977, André Rault would travel to the West to meet with potential clients in churches and convents; they would subsequently be sent beautifully coloured maquettes of proposed designs. Eventually, over sixty installations were completed in the West, primarily in Saskatchewan and Alberta, as well as in British Columbia, Washington State, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, Yukon and the North West Territories. Notable installations include Holy Rosary Cathedral and Blessed Sacrament Church, Regina; Cathedral of the Assumption, Gravelbourg; St. Joseph’s Seminary, Edmonton, St. Patrick’s in both Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, and St Paul Minnesota.

 

The Rault studio continues in Rennes under maître verrier Frederic Rault. As  Les Maîtres-Verriers Rennais, it is now the longest continuously operating stained glass studio in France. The Rault atelier recently replicated the massive 14th-century grisaille windows in the nave of the Gothic Royal Chapel at Chateau de Vincennes, Paris, which was severely damaged by a wind storm in 1999. In addition to their many installations in France and North America, the company’s work can be found in churches, synagogues and mosques in Egypt, Morocco, Haiti, Portugal, and Rome.       

 

Patrick Burns

 

 

 

 

 

Rose Window,Guido Nincheri

St Paul's Cathedral, Toronto.

Courtesy Maclean's

 

Guido Nincheri, about 1935.

Courtesy Atelier d'histoire Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

 

 

 

Cartoon fitted with glass, Nincheri Studio, Montreal.

Courtesy Atelier d'histoire Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

 

 

Nincheri (standing) and an assistant.

Courtesy Atelier d'histoire Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert McCausland at his offices on Spadina Avenue circa 1918.

Courtesy McCausland Archives.

 

 

 

 

A fifth generation McCausland cleaning glass with a vacuum hose

.Courtesy McCausland Archives.

 

 

 

Classical Dome: Dragons Protecting Gold , 1885.

Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto.

Courtesy Alan L. Brown

 

 

 

 

McCausland Plaque at the Hockey Hall of Fame,

Courtesy Torontohistory.org web site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

André Rault in his Rennes studio, c. 1958.

Courtesy Rault Archives

 

 

 

Paul Rault at left, c. 1958.

Courtesy Rault Archives

 

Andre Rault in studio, c.1965..

Courtesy Rault Archives

 

 

Signature from a Brittany Church, c. 1954

Photo Patrick Burns

 

 

 

Former Rault Atelier,  Place Hoche, Rennes

Photo Patrick Burns

 


Last Updated: May 4, 2009