Portrait of the Artist as a Friend
Excerpted from his eulogy (7 september 2015)
As difficult as this is, I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak about my friend.
Twenty-three years ago, Gabrielle, with whom I shared an acquaintance, called me out of the blue. She had some vague idea about a collaboration between Jacques and me. I looked forward to meeting them both.
At the time, I taught painting from life—from nude models mostly, and Jacques agreed to model for my class. Knowing Jacques, you could probably imagine his agreeing to pose nude, but he wore his clothes. And he brought his violin to practice for an upcoming concert. The class of mostly young art students was expecting a naked person to sit still and be quiet while they got the anatomy right. Jacques didn’t exactly meet their expectations.
Most of them had never heard a violin and may never before have heard unamplified music. Instead of a bored nude, they got a very talkative, eccentrically dressed Frenchman playing a violin. It confused and annoyed them at first, but Jacques talked to them in their language. He described his instrument and his technique. He spoke with great enthusiasm about the composers he would play and he described his own development as an artist.
Jacques was a comfortable and generous teacher. He drew a short line between his art and theirs, and helped these student painters understand the importance of psychological and emotional implications in art. Then he began to play his instrument. As he played, some of the students wept. This was an extraordinary painting class.
Jacques came back to pose again so the students could finish their portraits. Ultimately he invited them to attend his concert at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio where he was to perform what they’d been listening to him practice. I set up their portraits of him in the lobby. They were by far the best paintings produced in that class. This experience marked the beginning of a deep and enduring friendship.
Over the years, Claudia and I have gotten to know the Israelievitches and their families: parents, siblings, children and now, grandchildren. They’ve known our kids from birth.
Jacques and Gabrielle loved having art and artists around them. They hosted small groups of musicians to sightread from Jacques’ massive library of music. There were only slightly more people listening than playing. It was always an intimate group. Claudia and I met writers, musicians, dancers and artists, as well as other music enthusiasts at these salons in their home.
It was also great fun to attend exhibitions and events with Jacques, but he hated leaving the art behind—in later years, especially ceramics. He wanted to take each object home and build a relationship with it, find the creator and learn how they thought and what inspired them. Three weeks ago, he ordered cups from a ceramist in Montana. Two others had arrived earlier in the week. He was a relentlessly curious and enthusiastic art patron.
One evening, Jacques called to tell me about a fabulous painting he had just brought home. I went over to have a look and he asked if I had any advice on how to hang it. It was a big piece, almost two metres tall. If you’ve been in Jacques and Gabrielle’s house, you’d know the real issue wasn’t how, but where to hang something this size (or any size, for that matter).
We had a glass of wine and discussed where it should go. If we took down a large tapestry in the stairway, it could fit there, but where would they store the tapestry? After a second glass, we decided simply to hang the painting over the tapestry. Probably a bad idea to begin this project at ten p.m. after two glasses of wine, but at about eleven, once the second bottle had been opened, it seemed like a much better idea, so we got out the ladders and hammers and giggled and risked life and limb until well after midnight. And there it has hung for more than twenty years (over the tapestry).
Jacques was a champion of Canadian musical creation. He commissioned and debuted many works by Canadian composers and introduced them to an even broader audience through his recordings. He was a Chevalier, and then an Officier in the Order of Arts and Letters of France. And this year, he became a member of the Order of Canada.
He had many other titles and honours, but important among them were Son, Brother and Uncle to his family in France and America; Dad to his three boys, and Papy to two beautiful grandchildren. I don’t know of an adequate descriptor for his relationship with his wife, Gabrielle: they were partners in every sense of the word, and Jacques basked in the warmth of her love right to the end of his life.
Like all of you, I’ll miss hearing Jacques play and seeing him perform. He was a great musician. But most of all I’ll miss my friend.
July 11 2015, Chautauqua