Painter: Dominique Beauregard
Photographer: André Bérard
Detail: Acrylic on canvas; 40″ x 40″
Painting by Dominique Beauregard from the exhibition « Les Stations du curé Labelle »
Few people know that Labelle made two important trips to Europe. Even fewer are aware of how popular he was in the Old World. The “huge priest weighing 333 pounds” from across the Atlantic became the darling of several wealthy circles in the City of Light. Photographs and stories describing his comings and goings appeared in the pages of the major European newspapers. His “exuberant” personality, “rustic” manners and outspokenness amused his hosts.
Labelle was conscious of the effect he had on people, as shown by this excerpt from a letter he wrote while on his second trip to Europe in 1890: “My days are taken up with visits, luncheons, dinners. People expect me to speak everywhere and on everything. I tell you, Parisians think I’ve got Gallic wit and spice wrapped up in Norman dress. I’m stunned by the whole thing: being the darling of the most distinguished social circles here is truly amazing. They want Labelle, so I give them all I have and more. I play up the French factor, as here the patriotic line trumps everything.”
The canvas Le Toutou de Paris is inspired by this passage from Labelle’s letter that talks enthusiastically about his status as the darling of the Paris salon circuit. The expression “être le toutou de quelqu’un” means to be someone’s darling, the centre of attention, to be in fashion, to be admired, etc.
Ironically, It was only after creating her representation of Labelle—in the form of a bear in a cassock—that the artist learned of the existence of this letter, in which the priest refers to himself as a “toutou,” which in Quebec also means “teddy bear.”