Sir William Van Horne’s Japanese Ceramics

From November 20, 2019 to March 1, 2020

The exhibition Obsession: Sir William Van Horne’s Japanese Ceramics presents close to 150 ceramic pieces from the eminent Montrealer’s collection, which today has been dispersed and now belongs to the MMFA and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Cups, bowls and pots are accompanied by a variety of carefully written archival documents and even watercolours by Sir William Van Horne (1843-1915).

More scientific than accumulative, Van Horne’s obsession with these objects reflected his desire to better understand Japanese culture, even if he never set foot in Japan. Obsession: Sir William Van Horne’s Japanese Ceramics is an opportunity to reexamine this collection dating back to a time when orientalism and colonial conquests informed collectors’ tastes, from a contemporary perspective, placing the ceramics in a broader context and presenting historical elements in a more nuanced manner.

For visitors who wish to enhance their experience of Japanese art, many other ceramic pieces from his collections are on display in the dedicated Japanese gallery of the new Stephan Crétier and Stéphany Maillery Wing featuring the MMFA’s Arts of One World collection.

About Sir William Van Horne


Collector and historic patron of the MMFA, Montrealer Sir William Cornelius Van Horne (1843-1915) was one of Canada’s greatest entrepreneurs. He was instrumental in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway and became its president in 1888. His home in Montreal’s fashionable Square Mile was renowned for its collection of paintings, furniture, and fine objects. Here, we discover his passion for collections, exhibitions, and the study of Japanese ceramics.

In 1994, Van Horne’s daughter donated a group of 595 works to the Art Association of Montreal, including paintings by Canaletto, Cézanne, Daumier, Greco, Guardi, Monet and Tiepolo, along with 217 Japanese ceramics. This was the beginning of the MMFA’S collection of Asian art.



The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, published in English and French, under the direction of Ron Graham, independent curator and the exhibition’s co-curator. The 195-page work includes essays and scholarly texts by Nathalie Bondil, Janet M. Brooke, Kelvin Browne, Ron Graham, Peter C. Newman, Akiko Takesue and Laura Vigo.

Credits and Curator

An exhibition organized by the Gardiner Museum, Toronto, in partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This project is funded by the Government of Canada.

Curators: Ron Graham and Akiko Takesue, independent curators, and Laura Vigo, Curator of Asian Art, MMFA.

Header photo credit: images courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario. LA.VHF.S5F1.1-68; LA.VHF.S3.12; LA.VHF.S3.2. © Art Gallery of Ontario and Sally Hannon. Tara Fillion, Art Director, Gardiner Museum