In 1938, after spending six months at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal, Jean-Philippe Dallaire received a grant from the Quebec government to complete his studies in Paris. During the German occupation of 1940 to 1944, he was held at the internment camp in Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris, where he managed to continue making art. He finally returned to Canada in 1945, and taught drawing and painting at the École des beaux-arts de Québec from 1946 to 1952, before working as an illustrator for the National Film Board of Canada.
Qui est coupable?, a fine gouache painting from 1948, unites in a single piece the formal virtuosity, favoured subject matter, and iconoclastic influences of Dallaire, a painter on the margins of the postwar period’s movements and manifestos. Two characters each seated on a chair are conversing and gesticulating in a seaside setting, bathed in a surreal light. “Dallaire is very sensitive to the formal vocabulary that Jean Lurçat2 applied to tapestry,” notes Michèle Grandbois in her essay. “It informs the general organization of his surfaces, which he loads up with unabashedly borrowed decorative motifs”. The consequence of a hybrid visual language, Qui est coupable? stakes out a post‑Cubist space of flattened planes to present these characters, straight out of the commedia dell’arte, costumed head‑to‑toe like street performers. Imbued with veracity and mystery, Qui est coupable? occupies an enviable spot within the artist’s body of work.