Art, Canada and 1905

I’ve just returned from a family vacation to Montreal, in which I was resoundingly and unsurprisingly outvoted in my application to get to the Canadian Railway Museum in St Constant. Fortunately, The Girl suggested we Hop-Off the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour for a visit to the excellent Musée des Beaux Arts.

I had no idea Montreal was home to such an excellent art museum. However, being the Canadian centre of wealth until the nineteen sixties and the only Canadian city of style even today, it makes perfect sense that Montreal was the home to many great art collections and donors. The museum spans five buildings, connected, in Montreal fashion, by a subterranean network of passages.

There is an entire building devoted to Canadian art, organized by period, and this enabled me to satisfy my curiosity about the period in which Pembroke is set. Most Canadian art books skip blithely from Cornelius Krieghoff’s happy habitants straight to the post impressionism of the Group of Seven. I’ve been worried that my Art Nouveau direction might be all wrong for Canada in 1905.

Montreal’s gallery has a whole floor devoted to “The Age of Exhibitions” from about the 1880s through the start of the Great War. One wall is dedicated to a tightly-displayed grouping of forgettable Barbizon-inspired landscapes, similar to an exhibition from the period. However, the opposite wall included some lovely impressions by the likes of Maurice Cullen, who had studied in Paris. While there was nothing of Art Nouveau, it helps me believe that Europe was not so very far from Canada in my era after all.

Maurice Cullen, Quebec City from Levis, 1904. Musee des Beaux Arts, Montreal

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