By Vanessa Françoise Rothe
In search of great places to recommend to Fine Art Today readers, I was excited to travel last week to Montreal to inquire into the much-talked-about art scene there, and I discovered what everyone was talking about — and then some. The beautiful city is a mix of New York and Paris, but a smaller and more intimate version, with about half of the city speaking French and the other English.
My journey to Montreal started with a visit to the Beaux Arts Museum, located on the “Golden Square Mile” of downtown Montreal. Split into two parts, the museum is housed in a beautiful vintage building on one side of the street, with the other side donning a more modern façade and a tunnel (as winters are quite cold) connecting the two.
The permanent collection I found to be a delightful mix of Realism and Impressionism, alongside as a modern collection. The museum is filled with strong work, yet you can see many works in just a short visit thanks to the refined layout. One can view works from Courbet, to Monet and Fatin Latour, to Sickert to Picasso, and enjoy each piece in its own time, without feeling overwhelmed.
The rooms and the works are displayed beautifully and easy to digest, with a few traditional rooms plus a video-projection room that is a feast for the senses, projecting seascapes with sounds and images of softly moving trees for a unique art viewing experience.
Of extraordinary note is a self-portrait by Bouguereau as well as the charcoal drawing below it, granting some rare insight into this historical master. The Monet, Pissarro, and Impressionists room shows landscapes and figures that lean realist to Impressionist, tracing the history from circa 1850 to 1900 with fine examples along the way. I was met by local artist Nicolas Martin, who gave me a tour through the works and pointed out a few points on each that he felt was of note; he feels that this portrait of Bouguereau, and a large Benjamin Constant, are alone worth making the drive into the city.
In addition to the museum, there is a row of galleries specializing in a 1920s-1950s-style work just next door, as well as assorted galleries throughout the city, which is known as a popular visiting place for artists. I highly recommend the experience at the bar or restaurant of the Mount Stephen Hotel, where music, art, and painterly lighting mix well with your Perrier or champagne. The town is filled with Parisian-style wooden storefronts, fine restaurants such as LE MEAC, and numerous jazz clubs with live piano and sax that are particularly refreshing after a day in the city.
Where to stay in Montreal? The Mount Stephan or the Ritz Carlton (the first one ever built) are within easy walking distance of the Beaux Arts Museum. A delightful visit.
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