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1920’s Montreal at the Museum of Fine Arts

A new look at works from the Beaver Hall Group.

In the world of visual arts, the Beaver Hall Group is described as ‘one of the most original manifestations’ of pictorial modernity in Canada’.

Since October 24th, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which recently moved its main entrance to the other side of the street, to the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion at 1379 Sherbrooke Street West, is presenting an exhibition on the 2nd floor called: 1920’s Modernism in Montreal: The Beaver Hall Group. This is the first time a museum is presenting an in-depth look into this short-lived group of artists who joined together in the 1920’s and breathed new life into the artistic scene in Montreal. The research for this exhibition at the MMFA has shed new light on the complexity and relevance of this group of artists in the long history of art.

“This exhibition sheds new light on this short-lived group of artists who joined together and breathed new life into Montreal’s artistic scene.”

Walking through the different rooms of the exhibition, you’ll notice some recurring components in the different works: city and countryside landscapes, often in winter and almost always featuring characters in the background. Here you’ll recognize Saint-Denis Street, Sainte-Catherine Street, Beaver Hall Street (very present in the exhibition - the studio was on this street, and is where the group got their name), the Old Port of Montreal, etc. The choice of colors is avant-garde for its time: it’s truly original and alive.

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A piece that is sure to capture your attention: artist Sarah Robertson’s Red Sleigh. The bright colors are accentuated by distinct contours. The bright red sleigh and green horses are an excellent example of 1920’s modernism: the landscape first, the character second and blurred, and daring color choices for the time.

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“The Beaver Hall Group let many women showcase their work, despite the fact that at the time it was very difficult for women to have a career in the world of visual arts.”

Also, many women are featured in this exhibition. There are as many portraits of women as there are portraits by women. The Beaver Hall Group let many women showcase their work, despite the fact that at the time it was very difficult for women to have a career in the world of visual arts. Several female artists were members of the group, and many of their portraits, even nudes, are featured at this exhibition.

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Who is the Beaver Hall Group?

It was in 1920, in Montreal, when a dynamic group of artists, who were consciously allied with a similar group in Ontario, the Group of Seven in Toronto, was born. This group of artists recognized the importance of the fight for contemporary Canadian art.

"In the world of visual arts, the Beaver Hall Group is described as ‘one of the most original manifestations’ of pictorial modernity in Canada."

At first the Beaver Hall Group was a simple association between members who shared a studio at 305 rue du Beaver Hall. Even as the Group, formed in the fall of 1920, survived only a year and a half, their friendships and alliances continued for the next twenty years.

In the world of visual arts, the Beaver Hall Group is described as ‘one of the most original manifestations’ of pictorial modernity in Canada’. The group broke up, without too much explanation, in the fall of 1923. The appearance of the Beaver Hall Group, in late May 1920, represents a key moment in the history of Canadian art. After the war, the next generation of artists agreed.

The exhibition runs until January 31, 2016, on the 2nd floor of the Hornstein Pavilion. Enjoy $10 tickets on Wednesdays after 5pm! It’s also the only evening the museum is open. Otherwise they’re open every day until 5pm, except Mondays when they’re closed. Also, the Jazz Café, open weekends only, sells coffee, tea and pastries in the recreation area of the showroom.

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