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Art Association of Montreal Building(11/1910-1/1913)
1379 Sherbrooke Street West [at avenue du MusÃ©e], Montreal, QC, Canada
Cultural, Museum [basement, 2 floors]; stone; composite
Client: Art Association of Montreal
Description: One of the most remarkable Beaux-Arts edifices in Canada, this new Gallery for the Art Association (now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) replaced the 1879 Philips Square building. The new location on Sherbrooke Street at Ontario Street, in the Square Mile, was close to the residences of the Board members William Van Horne (210), James Ross (191), Edward Clouston (55) and Richard B. Angus (268). It was also close to McGill University and the business district, on a prestigious thoroughfare synonymous with class and refinement. A restricted competition had three firms competing: the Maxwells, Brown & Vallance (CAC 10) and Percy Nobbs (CAC 1). The former team presented splendid renderings of a refined Classical pavilion in the Beaux-Arts style. Consulting architect Edmund M. Wheelwright (1854-1912), a Boston architect who had attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, not surprisingly chose the Maxwells’ design, which reflected the French manner. Once again William Maxwell’s Classical training secured the firm a crucial commission.
The final plans, however, were for a museum on a more modest scale than had been previously envisioned, to meet the Association’s immediate needs and fit within budget. The Building committee did not intend to scrimp when it came to materials and chose white marble from Manchester, Vermont, for the exterior. After some discussion on the possibility of using artificial stone in parts of the interior to cut costs, it was stated that "no expense was to be spared." The new gallery was formally opened on December 9, 1912.
The symmetrical composition, the grand staircase leading up to the imposing stone columns (each carved from a single block), the large entrance doors and the use of white marble were all typical of the Beaux-Arts work. The architectural sculpture clearly refers to the purpose of the building, for example the bas-reliefs of the façade intended "to represent the traditions of Greek and Roman art being explained to groups of sculptors, artists, painters." The bronze grilles over the entrance doors are each decorated with a cherub posed beside the attributes of the various arts.
The monumental grandeur is carried through to the interior of the gallery in the entrance hall, which has a marble floor and Botticino marble walls. The majestic marble stair with its handsome bronze balustrade leads visitors to the main exhibition galleries above. Ceremonial progression and a well thought out plan were key Beaux-Arts principles. However, it was noted that having reached the top of the stairs, patrons were confronted with a wall. The architects had envisioned a court for cast plaster sculptures there, but instead visitors had to proceed left or right to the galleries or the areas of passage beside the imposing bronze-capped columns around the stairwell. The interior decoration is restrained, using motifs such as laurel leaf on oak door surrounds, which were hand-carved by members of the Bromsgrove Guild of Canada (304). The Guild also executed the furniture designed by the Maxwell firm for the galleries and offices.
Although well-received, the building suffered from its corner location; it was not possible to surround it with landscaped grounds, and later extensions had to contend with the cramped site. A first extension to the north (Norton wing) occurred in 1939 to designs by Fetherstonhaugh & Durnford, followed by a major modernist addition in 1976, designed by Fred Lebensold of Arcop Associates. Finally, in 1991, a new pavilion across the street south of Sherbrooke was erected by Moshe Safdie and Associates (CAC 58), bearing the name Jean-Noel Desmarais. The original Maxwell building took the name Benaiah Gibb Pavilion, after the Association’s first major donor, and as of September 25th, 2000, it was re-named the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion.
Ludlow, Thomas. ''The Montreal Art Gallery: E. and W.S. Maxwell, Architects.'' Architectural Record Vol. 37, February 1915, p. 133
Pepall, Rosalind. Construction d’un musée Beaux-Arts / Building a Beaux-Arts Museum. Montreal, QC: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal/Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1986.
Pepall, Rosalind, ''The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.'' In The architecture of Edward and W.S. Maxwell. Montreal QC: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1991, p. 157-159.
''The New Art Gallery, Montreal.'' Construction Vol. 7, January1914, p. 8.
Holdings: Museum (basement, 2 floors); stone; composite
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