The decorative arts collection was initiated in 1916 by F. Cleveland Morgan, the Museum's volunteer curator for many decades. Aimed at bringing together "all works likely to contribute to the education of artists and artisans," it is the source of the Museum's encyclopedic character.
The MMFA has a collection of decorative arts and design that is the only one of its kind in Canada. Bringing together some 16,000 works covering seven centuries, from the Renaissance to contemporary design, it is also one of the largest in North America. The Museum also has an outstanding collection of stained glass windows by Louis C. Tiffany and several major Canadian artists.
A Stimulating Layout
In 2011, the space devoted to the decorative arts was expanded. The new gallery layout designed in collaboration with Nathalie Crinière of the Paris-based Agence NC showcases nearly 1,000 objects. Laid out on three levels, it invites visitors to discover the evolution and metamorphosis of objects arranged along thematic lines.
Early Decorative Arts
In 1932, the MMFA began assembling a collection of Quebec antique furniture, ceramics and silver dating back to the 18th century. It was the first Canadian museum to recognize the need to preserve this cultural heritage. Eloquent examples attest to local creativity, with the 20th century illustrated with creations from Montreal's cabinetmaking school, the École du meuble (1935 – 1958).
A rich selection of European objects and furniture is also featured, some showcased in displays inspired by curiosity cabinets, others arranged as a genealogy of the history of Western ceramics.
The Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection
In 2000, the collection amassed by Montreal patrons Liliane and David M. Stewart of nearly 5,500 works created by the foremost designers of the 20th century (works formerly in the collection of the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts) was donated to the MMFA. These objects – industrially produced, limited edition and artisanal creations – stand out for their aesthetic qualities and their place in the history of decorative arts, especially those objects created after 1935. The major representation of Italian design from the 1950s to the 1980s is one of its strong points, as is the collection of American and Scandinavian design from the 1940s and 1950s, as well as a vast corpus of modern and contemporary jewellery that complements the Museum's own.
Designers Emblematic of the 20th and 21st Centuries
Thanks to the generosity of donors, designers, manufacturers and the Museum's own purchases, the representation of early 20th-century masters, as well as modernist architecture, including the great names in contemporary design, has been enhanced. Recently, gifts of a vast corpus of American Streamlined Design, Italian Radical Design, works by Ettore Sotsass – of which the Museum has a considerable collection – Schneider glass and Studio Glass, have allowed the MMFA to assemble a particularly representative collection in these fields.
An Exceptional Collection of Stained Glass Windows
The Erskine and American Presbyterian Church, inaugurated in 1894 and acquired by the MMFA in 2008 to be conserved, restored and transformed into a concert hall, features an exquisite set of stained glass windows. It includes 20 Tiffany stained glass windows from Montreal's American Presbyterian Church (demolished in 1936), 18 of which were made between 1897 and 1904, the heyday of Louis C. Tiffany's New York studios. The other windows are by Montreal's Castle & Son studio and Canadian artists Charles W. Kelsey and Peter Haworth.
The Design Lab
Since 2008, Quebec and Canadian contemporary design has been promoted in the Design Lab, a space intended as a platform for experimentation where designers and firms can exhibit their objects to visitors, who are invited to test them out in this relaxed atmosphere.
The first scholarly work on this collection, prepared under the general editorship of MMFA curators Rosalind Pepall and Diane Charbonneau, will be released in fall 2012. This book (24.5 x 35 cm, 400 pages, 550 colour illustrations, hardcover, French and English editions) will present an original, in-depth review of the collection and examine the evolution of form and technique from the Renaissance to today. Organized in seven chapters by period and materials (fabric, glass, metal, paper, plastic and composite materials, ceramics and wood), the work features 700 objects analyzed by 30 specialists in terms of style, ornamentation, technique and materials.
Available now, The Century of Modern Design (Flammarion, 2010, 480 pages), by David A. Hanks, curator of the Liliane and David M. Stewart Program for Modern Design, offers a chronological presentation of the key works in the Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection.