USEREVIEW 048 (Capsule): Talking to a Portrait: Tales of an Art Curator

Staff/ September 8, 2021/ Book Review, Capsule Review

Rosalind M. Pepall
Talking to a Portrait: Tales of an Art Curator (Véhicule Press, 2020)
ISBN 978-1-55065-541-4 | 224 pp | $22.95 CAD

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In Talking to a Portrait, Rosalind M. Pepall employs a prose style that combines personal essay with art history to recount notable stories that unfurled during her decades as a curator for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. None of this is within my areas of expertise, and so I walked into this book the way one who has only a passing familiarity with the visual arts walks into a gallery. What I found here was not unexpected, but it offered a far more detailed account of narratives and themes I had only ever seen portrayed in broad strokes. In ‘Illuminating Tiffany,’ Pepall introduces us to Clara Driscoll, a designer of Tiffany lamps, whose artistry established Tiffany’s legacy rather than her own. In ‘Young Love in the Charlevoix,’ Pepall profiles Jori Smith, a painter for whom the vivacious glamour and romance of her early artistic life had given way to increasing isolation and obscurity in her later years, despite the fact that her work can be “found in every major collection of Canadian art” to this day. Pepall’s essays all include instructive background information, which makes them readily accessible to visual arts novices like myself. At the same time, they should also interest to the more learned arts appreciators because the essays are rich with little-known facts to which Pepall was privy as an esteemed and curious art curator.


Recommended excerpt:

‘Ludivine’ (pp. 15–29) reveals the story of the eponymous young woman, plucked “out of the obscurity of a fishing village” in rural northern Quebec, to sit for a famous painting by Edwin Holgate. Like so many before her, Ludivine’s contributions to the world of art were compensated sparsely: she was paid $7.00 in 1930, equivalent to less than $110 today. Though Ludivine’s portrait is currently on display in the National Gallery of Canada, and her face adorns posters and postcards that travel the world, Ludivine herself never went to Paris as she dreamed, and she died in her small fishing village in 2000.


Jade Wallace is the Reviews Editor for CAROUSEL. More: jadewallace.ca

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