(Québec City 1852 – Montréal 1908)
Un vieux de ’37
[The Old One of ’37]
Gouache on brown paper
The aged man armed with a shotgun in Un vieux de ’37 [The Old One of '37] is a powerful figure in Quebec history. The diagonal of the forward-leaning body and the raised heel of the foot to the back suggest motion and the dynamic stance of a fighter heading off to battle. The portrait is likely that of Edmond-Joseph-Édouard Mignault, who fought in the 1837 Patriote Rebellion, rather than an invented archetype. Either way, it has become an icon of Quebec independence movements, although the pipe, tuque and arrow-patterned sash were already emblematic of the French-Canadian habitant when Henri Julien drew the now legendary figure.
Even if Un vieux de ’37 dates to 1904, it fittingly represents 1970 here. This work was appropriated by the activist group Front de libération du Québec, which used it as a symbol of Quebec separatist resistance, most notoriously during the 1970 October Crisis. The Patriote figure had been created sixty-six years earlier by Henri Julien, an illustrator, cartoonist and painter who contributed numerous drawings to Montréal’s English and French newspapers at the turn of the 20th century.
Over the years, the narrative surrounding Un vieux de ’37 [The Old One of '37] has changed with each new appropriation. The image was first borrowed to bolster the sale of Victory Bonds during World War II. Later, it was associated with Quebec separatist movements. And today it often appears on the Patriote flag and on posters and apparel at demonstrations and events commemorating Quebec history and nationalism.