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Michal and Renata Hornstein pavilion

Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion by night
Credit

In 1912, the growth of the Art Association of Montreal’s permanent collection led its board to decide to build a new home for it on Sherbrooke Street in the Golden Square Mile, the neighbourhood of the anglophone elite. The new museum, designed by architects Edward and William S. Maxwell, with its white marble facade, tall colonnaded portico and monumental staircase, was soberly imposing. It included spacious exhibition galleries, a lecture hall, a library and studios for the art school.

Three levels to explore

Level S1

Cinéma du Musée
Maxwell Cummings Auditorium

Level 1

Temporary exhibition galleries
Hall of Bronzes

Level 2

Major exhibition galleries

History

Insufficient space

The Art Association of Montreal proved so successful by the early years of the last century that its building on Phillips Square was no longer big enough. More often than not, the classrooms were used as storerooms stacked with paintings and sculptures from the permanent collection. The square, formerly a haven of peace and greenery, had become increasingly urbanized and noisy. The tall trees shading it had been cut down and an electric tramway now ran along St. Catherine Street, which every year further encroached upon the woods, orchards, and fields in the west of the city.

A new location

It was David Morrice, the father of the painter James Wilson Morrice, who had the idea of purchasing the Holton house on Sherbrooke Street, which was then sitting abandoned. The owner of the property, Senator Robert Mackay, gave it to the Art Association for the attractive price of $70,000. The sale agreement was signed on March 31, 1910.

Peinture de la maison holton en hiver
Credit

The construction of the new building

Following the advice of the architect Edmund M. Wheelwright, the Art Association of Montreal selected a design by the Maxwell brothers. Both of them had been trained in what is known as the Beaux-Arts style of architecture, and the plan for the building they proposed reflected the time’s French taste—a fine, dignified, somewhat austere presence that added to the refined elegance of Sherbrooke Street.

Edward Maxwell, architect, 1913.
Credit
William Maxwell, architect, 1913.
Credit
The Art Association’s new art gallery, Sherbrooke Street. The Sherbrooke Street facade, 1913.

Wm. Notman & Son, The Art Association’s new Art Gallery, Sherbrooke Street, The Sherbrooke Street facade (detail), 1913, gelatin dry plate, McCord Museum, Montreal. Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd. Inv. VIEW-13052. Photo McCord Museum, Montreal

Norcross-West Marble Co. quarry, Vermont: the quarrying, fashioning and transportation of the four monolithic columns for the new Art Gallery.

Norcross-West Marble Co. quarry, Vermont: the quarrying, fashioning and transportation of the four monolithic columns for the new Art Gallery (details), 1911, 9 black and white photographs. Dorset Historical Society Archives. Photos Dorset Historical Society Archives.

Norcross-West Marble Co. quarry, Vermont: the quarrying, fashioning and transportation of the four monolithic columns for the new Art Gallery.

Norcross-West Marble Co. quarry, Vermont: the quarrying, fashioning and transportation of the four monolithic columns for the new Art Gallery (details), 1911, 9 black and white photographs. Dorset Historical Society Archives. Photos Dorset Historical Society Archives.

The Art Association’s new art gallery, Sherbrooke Street. Interior views. Main gallery, first floor, about 1913.

Wm. Notman & Son (?), The Art Association’s new Art Gallery, Sherbrooke Street, main gallery, first floor, about 1913, black and white photograph. Archives, MMFA.

In the fall of 1910, the Art Association of Montreal awarded the George A. Fuller Company of New York the $300,000 contract to build the Museum. A year and a half later, work was progressing well, but the cost had risen to $595,800, almost double the original estimate. The Art Association therefore appealed to the generosity of its friends and the building was finally completed, without needing to enlist government assistance. Its interior design was quite similar to that of virtually all museums built in North America from 1890 to 1920. Opening off the lobby were galleries, administrative offices, the library, a lecture hall, and a large court in which plaster casts were displayed. Facing the great doors, a monumental staircase led up to the main exhibition galleries, for which skylights provided natural lighting.

The Museum on screen

The Museum has played a role in a number of films, including The Assignment (1997), by Christian Duguay, and Part 2 of Les liaisons dangereuses (2003), by Josée Dayan.

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