Sylvia Daoust was born in Montreal and studied drawing and sculpture at the Conseil des arts et manifactures in 1915 at the humble age of 13. She was the first woman to enroll in the École des beaux-arts de Montréal and graduated in 1929. She tied for first place in an interprovincial contest organised by Canadian Viceroy Lord Willingdon.
She was a teacher at the École des beaux-arts de Québec and then at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal from 1943 to 1968. She taught drawing, anatomy, modeling and wood and stone sculpture. She was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Order of Canada and the Ordre national du Québec. She participated in several exhibits across Canada, Italy and the United States.
Even though sculpture was her forte, Sylvia Daoust was also a drawer, a painter and an engraver. Her first important order was the bronze statue of Brother Marie-Victorin on display at the entrance of the Montreal Botanical Garden in 1951. At the time, many were offended that a woman was chosen for the job.
Her meeting with Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac architect Dom Bello was a turning point of her career. He asked her to work on decorating the Saint-Joseph Oratory alongside French sculptor Henri Charlier. Sylvia Daoust’s artistic career was both long and prolific. Her artwork includes many portraits, busts, medallions, wood and stone sculptures, bronze statues of many including Nicolas Viel located on the facade of the Assemblée nationale, Marguerite Bourgeois and Marguerite d’Youville in the Notre-Dame Basilica, Jeanne d’Arc in the Saint-Joseph Oratory, the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Universe in the apse of the Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral. Sylvia Daoust’s art belonged to a period of resurgence of religious art. She also produced a few abstract pieces – for herself. She admired the work of Henry Moore and the audaciousness of Armand Vailloncourt who ended up becoming on of her pupils.
This bronze statue embodies Édouard Montpetit, who in 1920 became the first secretary general of the Université de Montréal. The life-sized statue rests on an Indiana limestone base providing the man’s description: his name, his date of birth and death as well as his professions as a lawyer, an economist and a sociologist. There are three 4.8, 4.2 and 3.9 meters-high monoliths which symbolize these professions located behind the sculpture. Two benches located on a circular pavement laying built with Saint-Alban granite fulfill the ensemble. Sylvia Daoust was assisted by sculptor Gaétan Therrien to complete this piece. The bronze was cast by Roman Bronze Works Inc, a New York company specialized in the lost wax technique.
The artist took into account the buildings and the surroundings when she created the sculpture. The stone’s color is in harmony with the ocher brick overlay, whereas the monoliths isolate the statue from the surrounding buildings. The piece is located between the J.-A.-Desève pavilion and the student residencies and is visible from the street and atop the stone staircase.
This sculpture was ordered by the Fondation Édouard-Montpetit, 13 years after his death (1881-1954). Montpetit will forever be a remarkable person in the history of the Université de Montréal. He founded the École des sciences sociales, économiques et politiques which became the Faculté des Sciences sociales in 1972. He was also a professor for the Faculté de droit and at the École des hautes études commerciales de Montréal (HEC). This scholar who would forever be known throughout the history of Quebec had a radiating influence which surpassed the institution’s constitution.
Although the artist stayed true to her model, Sylvia Daoust did not produced a slavish imitation but a refined and expressive one. This piece also bears witness to her mastery in bronze sculpture and stone carving. By surrounding the statue with abstract-shaped monoliths, the artist puts it in the field of the modernity.