Prison Portraits by Jean-Joseph Girouard

Jean-Joseph Girouard (1794–1855) was a notary, an amateur artist, and a member of the Parti Patriote in Lower Canada during the first part of the 19th century. The Parti Patriote was a political party that sought political reform and rallied for French Canadian cultural heritage, rights and interests. The 1837–1838 Rebellion led by the Parti Patriote was a pivotal moment along the road to nationhood for pre-Confederation Canada.

Girouard was incarcerated twice for his role in the Rebellion. He maintained a notarial office and, unexpectedly, an artist’s studio while imprisoned in Montreal. Girouard created portraits of many of his fellow Patriote prisoners using drawing paper and pencils supplied to him by a supporter. The majority of these unique and rare drawings are now part of the holdings at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

A pencil sketch of Jean-Joseph Girouard in profile, sitting in a chair and drawing on paper with a pencil.

Jean-Joseph Girouard, self-portrait in prison, Montreal, ca. 1837–1838 (MIKAN 2894464)

Portraits of Sir Wolfred Nelson

Elected member of the Legislative Assembly and Patriote leader, Sir Wolfred Nelson (1791–1863) was among the political figures who sat for a portrait by Girouard. An anglophone supporter of the Parti Patriote, Nelson took on an important role as an organizer of the Rebellion.

A pencil drawing of Wolfred Nelson facing left, with shading around his shoulders, back of head and neck.

Wolfred Nelson, ca. 1837–1838 (MIKAN 3635404)

LAC holds three of Girouard’s pencil and charcoal drawings of Nelson created during their time in prison, including both profile and front perspectives. Together, the drawings suggest contemporary mug shots; however, the purpose for their creation was quite different. More likely, they were included in letters sent home to reassure the sitters’ families.

A pencil portrait of Wolfred Nelson looking toward the artist.

Wolfred Nelson, ca. 1837–1838 (MIKAN 3635406)

The 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation is fast approaching and Girouard’s portraits represent one of many important LAC collections that give us insight into how Canada became a nation.

Please be sure to check out the entire collection of Girouard portraits available online via LAC’s collections database to learn more.

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