After our Père Noël-filled day – in which we stretched our credit cards to their limit – we decided it was time to redeem our materialism with some culture. Thankfully, Montreal has much to offer and after a quick breakfast of crepes on Rue Ste. Catherine we were off to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal.
The museum has three buildings, or pavilions, that house a wide variety of art. The buildings are connected by underground passages but honestly we didn’t notice at first. Maybe it was because we were in a crepe-induced haze but the directions around the pavilions could have been marked more clearly.
Now, I am by no means an art snob and most of what I know was from a rough semester of art history. But, what I really appreciated about the musee was the way the collections were presented, which was by movement. Many museums do this but Musée des Beaux-Arts does it better than most.
Before you enter the room each movement is presented in, there are descriptions of what to look for as well as context to what was happening elsewhere in the world. I realized that not only was I seeing some breathtaking pieces of art, I was learning more, culturally so-to-speak, than I usually do at museums.
The spaces were also richly colored, particularly in the Napoleon exhibit. I know I’m taking away from the art by talking about the rooms but honestly the colors made the art pop that much more. There is a navy-blue appointed room in the Napoleon exhibit that is just gorgeous. Side note: they have a pair of Napoleon’s boots on display. So. awesome.
Another great feature at the museum is the musical audio guide for some of the collections. You can pick up the recordings at the museum, or even better, you can download it for free to your phone before your visit. I know a few people like to be silent while they view art but I think music adds to the experience as you move throughout the art eras.
While we were visiting there was a temporary impressionism exhibit, Une histoire de l’impressionnisme, which is there until January 20 and charges entry.
The permanent collection is free but more than that there are also free classes you can take. Some of the classes are for their younger visitors but who cares! We took a watercolor class and had a blast, despite the [much] younger students who joined us. It lasted just over an hour and with both French and English instructions we were watercolor pros by lesson’s end.
Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal was a fantastic experience. Not only did I see my first Calder work in person – I know, I know, I need to make it to MoMA – but we played like Cézanne for the day and created our own watercolored world.