Thursday, July 23, 2015

The History of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art

Pic from 1911 brochure "A Public Institution."
(Here's a free copy of Furies Cross the Mersey, about the UK Suffragettes In Montreal, 1913

Continuing my explorations into Montreal Arts Scene History (and the Beaver Hall Group) I went online to look for any theses on the subject.

My ebook Diary of a Confirmed Spinster features a scene in the Montreal Art Association building at Phillip's Square. Back then I used info from a McGill architectural thesis to make my scene  more realistic.

Today, I downloaded one thesis about the history of the McCord Museum but couldn't not find one about the Montreal Art Association/Museum of Fine Arts.

That institution's fonds are in the McCord should anyone be interested in writing a book on the subject.

Still, it took me another hour of browsing and I found all manner of documents and articles and a complete history by Edgar Andrew Collard.
According to Edgar Andrew Collard, the Art Association learned the very first year that keeping the gallery open after dark cost too much for gas lighting. (There was a skylight.)

The first was on and it was the brochure published upon the 1912 opening of the new museum on Sherbrooke.

It's a short document, but the first paragraphs speak volumes:

As they say in the Public Relations biz, if it don't need to be said, don't say it.

The brochure lists the principal members, all men, most of them the usual suspects.

Still, Edgar Andrew Collard says it was the Square Mile Millionaires who kept the Montreal Art Association going in the 1910 era with their wonderful collections - and who funded the new building.

I found the by-laws of the Montreal Women's Art Association.

They were hoping to top off at 350 members and anyone could join if by getting two current members to vouch for them.

(This was more democratic than the Montreal Suffrage Association, where any new members had to vouched for by two members of the Executive.)

That organization still exists today.  These articles don't explicitly state that the organization is for women artists, but they did establish a women's studio and held exhibitions of their work.

No surprise, the best info I found was an historical essay by Edgar Andrew Collard in a 1970 Montreal Gazette, likely published in one of his amazing books about Old Montreal.

According to Collard, the Marquis of Lorne and his wife, Princess Louise, opened  the Art Association building at Phillip's Square with a ceremony in 1879. They were serious art lovers. She was a painter in her own right and, in his speech, he spoke of the day when there would be a Canadian Art Academy.

At that time, Collard said, Phillip's Square was wooded and peaceful, "where children came play and the old and infirm sat on benches to take their rest."(By 1910 it had become 'the women's square' with Birks' Jewelers, two churches and the Henry Morgan Department Store - and no benches!

Phillip's Square in 1910

The Art Gallery lent itself to the idea of a safe place in the city for women because by 1910 contemplating great art was considered something middle class women must do to elevate the race.

Edith Nicholson went to art exhibits. I know, because she describes one in the Windsor Hotel in 1912, with a Turner worth 40,000 dollars, or so she says. (In 1928 she went to the Louvre and wrote home about it.)

So not all art in the era was exhibited in the Art Association Building.

The Montreal Art Association Building at Phillip's Square, used as a billiard hall among other things after the move to Sherbrooke Street.

A WWI recruitment fair held in (likely) the Phillip's Square building.

During the War, an exhibition was held of Drummond's collection in the building on Sherbrooke. He had a Monet.

Here's a list of some water colours in the 1887 collection of the Montreal Art Association 

84 Disputed Possession .G. ITickcn (forsalc)
185 Waiting for the Ferry .L. Pictte F.C.
186 In the Thousand-Ifilands 0. R. Jacob!
187 Study of Head, (Female) Alcott K.C.
188 Poultry , .....G. Hicken "
189 Village in France ....L. Piette o .....
190 A Village Scene, (France)... L. Piette "
191 View in the Lower St. Lawrence.C. J. Wuy, R. C. A...Cr.C.
192 Old House on the Moselle A. W. Hunt. ....(forsale)
193 Dog Kennel ..............0. L. De Penne o. . .F.C.
194 Windsor Castle J. Harlow White (for sale)
195 Chillon, Lake Geneva C. J. Way, E. C. A. .F.C,
19C The Bridge of Sighs C. J. Way, R. C. A.. F.C.
197 Landscape .....0. R. Jacobi (for .sale)
198 Grand Canal, Venice C.J. Way, R. C. A. .Cr.C.
199 Study of Boy's Head W.P. Babcock F.C.
200 Portrait of W.P. Babcock ....W.P. Dana F.C.
'201 Hollyhocks J. Fowler ;
202 The Critics , Daumicr F.C.
203 A Water Fall 0. R. Jacobi 
Critics by Daumier.. Says it all, doesn't it?