In November of 2016, Montreal's splendid Musée des Beaux-Arts became the 12th largest museum in North America. A generous gift by locals Michal and Renata Hornstein added a handsome new building and 75 new masterworks to the collection, most notably medieval Dutch paintings. The museum is now more encyclopedic than ever, with western art of all eras represented, plus African art, ancient Egyptian statuary, Inuit sculptures, you name it, it's here. And since we should name names, know that Tintoretto, Breughel, Rembrandt, El Greco, Picasso, Rothko, Basquiat and other greats await those who visit.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of starting fresh with a new building is that the curators have been freed from the usual square- rooms-with-white-walls conventions. At the heart of every floor of the new pavilllion (which showcases western art from the 12th century through today) is an oval room, where art and artifacts are mixed in cunning ways. On the top floor, for example, are 15th Dutch still-lifes interspersed with the types of objects wealthy low-landers of that period would have displayed in their private house museums (a common practice). That might mean a half-foot tall statue from ancient egypt, a narwhal tusk or a case of ancient Roman coins. The juxtapositions are delightful. And that's just the beginning of the creativity on display here: in a room of highly romantic, 19th century paintings the curators have projected a forest onto the walls between the paintings, and piped in bird calls. Next door, in a gallery showing paintings of North Africa, the walls have been cut out to resemble the facade of a mosque.
So that's what's new at the museum, but what's "old" can be just as engrossing. All in all, the institution's campus encompasses five buildings, including an 1891 former church, with 20 exuberant stained glass windows by Tiffany. It is used for concerts and lectures. Another building houses the museum's decorative arts collection, the second largest in North America, which showcases everything from Lalique vases to Chihully chandeliers to rainbow-colored Ikea pitchers—and everything in between.
Be sure to make time for the museum’s pavilion of Québécois and Canadian Art. The collection of more than 2,000 pieces includes 500 Inuit works and 180 Amerindian artifacts displayed on six levels. Particularly engaging is the “Age of the Manifesto” gallery, featuring modernist works from the 1940s through 1960s by important Québécois including Alfred Pellan, Paul-Émile Borduas, and Jean-Paul Riopelle.
A street-level museum store, M Boutique and Bookstore, has an impressive selection of exhibition and signature products, and posters from the artwork of Québécois painter Marc-Aurèle Fortin. The Café des Beaux-Arts Restaurant is an elegant dining option, helmed by local star chef Laurent Godbout.
- Leslie Brokaw, Erin Trahan, Matthew Barber