The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) is the oldest museum in Canada, and one of its finest. Founded in 1860, it moved to one of its present locations just before WWI in 1912. ‘One of’ because the museum is actually comprised of two separate buildings separated by a street, connected by a long underground tunnel.
The older, neo-Classical building, the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, is on the north side of Sherbrooke. The newer building, the Jean-Noel Desmarais Pavilion, was finished in 1991. Each is worthy of a day-long visit. Here, art lovers will find 19th century Canadian paintings and drawings, along with art from all over Europe, Asia and Africa.
The collection’s offerings are not exhausted by traditional paintings and drawings. There are decorative objects, items of Mediterranean archeology and native crafts from the North American continent.
In the Mediterranean section there are marble funerary lekythos, a Hellenistic-Roman torso and a new Apollo sculpture forming the centerpiece of the collection. Next door are the Near/Middle Eastern and Egyptian collections. Luristan bronzes, used to adorn horses in the 6th-4th centuries BC, sit not far from ancient wooden objects from Egypt.
Since 2001, a part of the museum collection has been objects from the renowned Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Everything from a Hoffman chair to a Japanese incense box of exquisite delicacy can be seen here. It also holds prototypes of bentwood furniture designed by architect Frank Gehry.
In addition, the museum houses art from around Quebec, the eastern Canadian province in which Montreal is situated. There are also artifacts from the natives in the far north and west.
The European masters collection is the equal of many larger, more well-known museums. Here there are grisaille paintings by Mantegna. Baroque art from the French, Italian and Flemish count works by Poussin, de Witte and Bruegel the Younger. 18th century works include portraits by Hogarth and street scenes by Canaletto. Religious paintings by Tiepolo sit not far from a fine Gainsborough.
Later artists are represented as well. The Musée des Beaux-Arts holds many 19th century products of the Barbizon school, including Corot and Daumier. A Tissot is just down the walk from art by Renoir and Pissaro, Monet and Cézanne. The 20th century is also well represented with works by Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Dali.
With around 25,000 objects, it is far from the largest museum of the type, but some of the items are unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else. Located at 1379 Sherbrooke Street West, the museum is easy to reach via the Metro (Montreal’s subway). For details, see: http://www.mbam.qc.ca/en/index.html