Level 2Museum Collection: Decorative Arts from the Renaissance to 1930
Museum Collection: Cabinet of Curiosities
Museum Collection: Glass in All Its Forms
Design Lab
Level 1Museum Collection: Modern Design (1930-1970)
Museum Collection: Contemporary Design (1970 to Today)
Museum Collection: Modern and Contemporary Jewellery (1940 to today)

Eye-dazzling, provocative, elegant and playful. These are just some of the words that can be used to describe the Museum’s installation of decorative arts and design, which was unveiled in 2012. The galleries showcase 900 objects – furniture, glass, silver, textiles, ceramics and industrial design – from many different countries on display.

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The levels of the Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion have been rethought and restructured to present all seven centuries of the Museum’s decorative arts collection, bringing the most contemporary design to the fore and arranging the works in twenty-five thematic groupings. In the Lebensold wing, a great deal of space has been devoted to the elegantly cantilevered stairways with glass and bronze guardrails, which give visitors an opportunity to view the galleries as they ascend or descend. The wide openings needed for the stairways also relieve what might have been a confining expanse of gallery space with heavy, low ceilings.

The same accent on horizontality that marks the exterior is evident in the interior of the building. The horizontal pull is accentuated by the rigorous grid of the concrete coffers in the ceiling, which allows for track lighting, and, despite its heaviness, is a unifying presence. It has become evident that this style of architecture is ideal for the display of three-dimensional objects. Gone are most of the partitions and walls that had been added to hang paintings; instead, display cases and platforms follow the horizontal rhythms of the interior. The newly installed overhead band – a streak of brilliant red – unifies the interior space and carries the eye from one level to another, linking Renaissance and twenty-first-century design as never before.

Modern Design According to Liliane M. Stewart

An Exceptional Collection and Inspired Enterprise


Liliane (1928-2014) and David M. (1920-1984) Stewart were great Canadian patrons dedicated to various causes since 1970, and Mrs. Stewart is rightly known as the “best friend of Montreal museums.” The visionary venture began in 1979 with the founding of the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts (MMDA). It originally occupied a historic monument, the restored stately mansion known as the “Château Dufresne,” in which a selection of works was displayed. In 1997, due to lack of space, the MMDA moved its operations into a section of the new Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, designed by Frank O. Gehry.

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The MMDA earned an international reputation with its innovative exhibitions and remarkable publications, such as Design 1935–1965: What Modern WasDesigned for Delight; Design for Living: Furniture and Lighting 1950–2000; American Streamlined Design: The World of Tomorrow and other monographs highlighting the works of artists like Ron Arad, Ettore Sottsass, Eva Zeisel and Jack Lenor Larsen.

The MMDA made several acquisitions related to these exhibitions, thanks in part to the goodwill of the designers and the generosity of art lovers. Following the gift of the MMDA’s collection to the MMFA, part of this expanded collection was installed in the pavilion designed by American architect Fred Lebensold in 1976, which now bears the name of Liliane and David M. Stewart. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ Acquisition Committee for Decorative Arts, established in 2001 and chaired by Liliane M. Stewart, pursues the MMDA’s original mission.

The Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion: A Quintessential Example of 1970s Architecture

The decorative arts and design collection is housed in the Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion, an extension built by architect Fred Lebensold in 1976 behind the original 1912 building. The exterior of the pavilion, on Du Musée Avenue, is understated but forceful. Its low-lying, reinforced concrete blocks, devoid of any decorative references, are set back or pushed forward in horizontal bands stretching up the street. The severity of the grey walls is relieved by a series of windows and, more recently, by climbing green vines in the summer months.

Who was the architect of this wing of the Museum?

Architecte Lebensold

Fred Lebensold (1917-1985)

was a founding member of one of the top architectural firms in Canada of the period. Born in Warsaw, David Froim Lebensold (known as Fred) studied first engineering and then architecture at London’s Regent Street Polytechnic, receiving his diploma in 1939.

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After working in Scotland and London as an architect and serving with the British Royal Engineers during World War II, Lebensold moved to Montreal in 1949 to teach architecture at McGill University’s School of Architecture and set up practice. In 1954, he joined with architects Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos and Sise to form a co-operative partnership. The firm was regarded as a leader in the design of performing arts buildings, and Lebensold was the managing partner for the design of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, 1959; the Salle Wilfred Pelletier, Place des Arts, Montreal, 1964; the National Arts Centre, Ottawa, 1969; as well as the Museum’s new wing in 1976. In 1979, Lebensold moved to Toronto to head Arcop’s office there and died at the age of sixty-seven in 1985.