Since it first opened its doors in 1933, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec has designed, organized and hosted hundreds of exhibitions. Throughout its existence, the Musée has exhibited important and celebrated works of art from Québec, taking as its mission to cover all periods and styles, and was among the first institutions to recognize the talent of the province's artists. Painters and sculptors such as Horatio Walker , Sylvia Daoust, Clarence Gagnon, Alfred Laliberté, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté, Georges Saint-Pierre, Alfred Pellan, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jean Paul Lemieux, Françoise Sullivan, Fernand Leduc , Marcelle Ferron, and Paul-Émile Borduas have all enjoyed the honour of being exhibited at the museum at one time or another, as has architect and designer Julien Hébert. In addition to its early, modern and contemporary Canadian art, the museum collects gold jewelry, has a substantial collection of Québécois design pieces, and boasts a fine print and drawing room. It plays a major role in the community through its educational services, library and photographic documentation centre.
Creation and Early Years
Originally called the Musée de la province de Québec, and then updated in 1963 to the Musée du Québec, the institution that has been known since 2002 as the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec officially opened in June 1933, although the bill that created the museum had been passed in 1922. The Musée had as its original objective to provide a home for the provincial archives, the museum of natural sciences and the fine arts museum. Over the years, it developed its fine arts collection through the acquisition of remarkable works that were representative of the evolution of the arts in French Canada. Little by little, it began concentrating exclusively on art, leaving to other institutions the jobs of conserving the national archives and the natural history collections. The natural sciences collections left the Musée in 1962. Meanwhile, in 1979, the Archives de la province de Québec were moved to the Université Laval campus.
In October 1987, the minister of cultural affairs, Lise Bacon, announced the beginning of a major expansion program for the Musée du Québec. This announcement was the culmination of an effort that had been ongoing since 1985 to provide the institution with the facilities of a modern museum.
An architectural design created by architects Charles Dorval and Louis Fortin integrated two existing buildings, the Charles Baillargé pavilion (a former prison) and the Gérard Morisset pavilion (the original museum building). In order to preserve the natural quality of the setting (the Plains of Abraham) and also the distinctive character of the two older buildings, the architects chose the unusual strategy of concealing a section of the new wing under the park's natural landscaping.
The new structure has become a part of the site, as if it were a natural extension of it, and the many views afforded of the museum's natural setting contribute to the creation of a calm, relaxing atmosphere. Comfortable, sunny and spacious, this gathering place is now home to all of the museum's public services. The new museum complex, comprised of the original museum building, the former prison and the new wing connecting the two, more than doubled the surface area previously available for art exhibitions and enabled the museum to offer visitors a wider variety of services.
The Pierre Lassonde Pavilion
In June 2016, a second major expansion of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec was completed. Designed by the internationally acclaimed Office for Metropolitan Architecture — headed by award-winning architect Rem Koolhaas — in collaboration with the Montréal firm Provencher Roy, the expansion added a fourth pavilion to the museum complex, providing a glass-enclosed gateway to the museum from the street and doubling the available exhibition space.
Collection and Exhibitions
The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec houses the world’s most extensive collection of Québécois art, ranging from the paintings of 19th-century masters like James Wilson Morrice and Cornelius Krieghoff to the work of young artists today, like those belonging to the Québec-City-based collective BGL, who represented Canada at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
In 1996, the Musée acquired Jean-Paul Riopelle’s monumental late masterpiece L’Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg (1992), a 40-metre-long tribute to his former partner, American painter Joan Mitchell. In 2005, the collector Raymond Brousseau donated 2,635 works of Inuit art to the Musée.