Francesco lacurto
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 (1).

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.

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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.
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