This photo shows a wooden sculpture composed of three nude figures with rounded forms. At the left stands a man, seen in profile, while a woman crouching in front of him holds a child above her head. The barely sketched faces are featureless.

Robert Roussil

(Montréal 1925 – Tourrettes-sur-Loup, France, 2013)

 

La Famille

[The Family]

1949

Spruce, red wax coating

318 x 74 x 66 cm

Gift of Bernard Janelle, 1990

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1990.37

© Estate of Robert Roussil. Photo: MMFA, Christine Guest 


La Famille [The Family] depicts a nude man, standing, and a woman, crouching at his feet and holding up a child whose head is level with the man’s genitals. In 1949, the sculpture was left in public view on the grounds of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, sparking a storm of controversy that led to its censorship. It was the sight of male genitalia that caused the uproar and prompted local police to seize the work. As soon as the sculpture arrived at the police station, officers wrapped the man in a loincloth but left the woman nude.


The controversy surrounding La Famille brought recognition to Robert Roussil, then a little-known modern sculptor from Quebec with a fiery temper and a taste for polemics. Deeply engaged in left-wing political movements, he helped create studio workshops open to artists and workers of every stripe. In the late 1960s, he turned to modular art, blurring the line between sculpture and architecture to produce what he called “inhabitable sculptures.” Roussil was active in a period that saw sculptural conventions upended as the medium moved closer and closer to abstraction.

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In November 1949, newspapers across Canada published photos like this one. It shows the shrouded sculpture La Famille [The Family] being carted off in a van to the local police station, where it was “jailed.” The Montreal papers gleefully seized on the news and announced that La Famille would be “exhibited” at the station for a few days. This was not the only controversy in which Robert Roussil was embroiled. In 1951, another of his sculptures, La Paix (The Peace), was attacked with a two-by-four and partially destroyed.

Arless Zarov

 

Photograph in the unsigned article “Off to Bastille,” The Herald, November 11, 1949, p. 1.

Archives of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec

Photo: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Robert Roussil Fonds, P20, D7