Attracting around half a million visitors every year, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was originally the Art Association of Montreal when it was founded in 1860 by a group of a wealthy art-loving Montreal residents. But the first institution of its kind in the country wasn't so much an institution as it was a traveling art exhibit without a home.
It wouldn't be until 1879 that the association set root in its first location -- Montreal's then business district and today's Museum Quarter -- in the first building in Canada designed specifically to house art. And it wasn't until 1912 that the Art Association of Montreal moved to today's location on Sherbrooke Street. By 1948, Canada's preeminent art institution officially changed its name to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Permanent Collection: From Free to Not as Free
Making the museum affordable and accessible to everyone was evident in the MMFA's ongoing free permanent collection policy which ran from 1996 to March 31, 2014, featuring 36,000 objects which include:
- European art (works include Picasso, Dali and Matisse)
- Canadian art (from Antoine Plamondon to Pierre Gauvreau)
- decorative arts (from the Renaissance to today, includes industrial design)
- contemporary arts (includes Riopelle and Joan Miro)
- ancient cultures (Tang Dynasty earth ware, Coptic textiles and more)
- Mediterranean archeology (extensive collection of Roman, Greek, and Ancient Egyptian objects)
As of April 1, 2014, everyone over the age of 30 (with notable exceptions, as listed further below) must pay to visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts' permanent collection. In a press conference addressing the subject, MMFA general director Nathalie Bondil said that the museum, which was the last large Canadian museum to still offer free access to its permanent collection, had little choice but to charge admission if expansion plans --building a new pavilion devoted to educational and community activities slated for completion in 2017-- had any chance of being realized.
Housing several major exhibitions every year, past temporary exhibits include The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, Once Upon a Time Walt Disney: The Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios, Hitchcock and Art, and Picasso Érotique.
Every weekend, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts organizes activities so fun, your kids might not even realize they're "educational." These activities, most often arts and crafts with an art history twist, are offered free of charge, not even for the materials. The museum takes care of everything. Past activities include mask-making and live model drawing (models are clothed). Note that in some cases, passes are required for access to a given family workshop even though they're free. They must be picked up at the Studios Art & Education Michel de la Chenelière of the Museum in the Family Lounge section as of 10 a.m. on the day of the activity itself. Passes are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Some Family Weekend activities may not require a pass but are still offered in a first-come, first-served basis as space is limited. Visit the Family Weekends section online for more information on upcoming workshops, concerts and guided tours.
Founded in 1882, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Library is Canada's oldest arts library is not open to the public but is accessible as a reference to researchers. The collection includes over 84,500 monographs, 63,200 auction catalogs, 18,000 files on Canadian artists, 930 serial publications and more than 200 videos, CD-ROMs and DVDs. Requests for access must be sent by mail, email or by fax at (514) 285-5655. Allow four weeks for confirmation.
MMFA Bistro and Petit Café
If you just want a light snack and coffee, then head to the MMFA's Petit Café, open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. If you're looking for a more substantial meal, the MMFA's Bistro serves lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day (except Monday) and dinner on Wednesdays only from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Call (514) 843-3233 for MMFA Bistro reservations.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday (permanent collection and "discovery" exhibits)
11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday (temporary exhibits)
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, Friday
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Sunday
Note: Ticket counter closes 30 minutes before museum closing time.
Addresses and Contact Information
Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion: 1380 Sherbrooke Street West (corner Crescent)
Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion: 1379 Sherbrooke Street West (corner Crescent)
Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion: 1339 Sherbrooke Street West (between Crescent and de la Montagne)
Mailing address: P.O. Box 3000, Station "H," Montreal, Quebec H3G 2T9 Call (514) 285-2000 or (514) 285-1600 for more information.
Guy-Concordia Metro and head for the general entrance and ticket counter at the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion at 1380 Sherbrooke Street West.
Admission: Temporary Exhibits
Admission varies by temporary exhibit, usually ranging from $20 to $25 but free for VIP members (more on that further below). Temporary exhibit admission also grants access to the permanent collection and "discovery" exhibits without having to pay additional fees. Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. feature half-price access (roughly $10) to temporary exhibits BUT this discount does not include access to the permanent collection nor "discovery" exhibits.
Admission: Permanent Collection and "Discovery" Exhibits
$12 ages 31 and over, free for ages 30 and under, free for ages 65 and up every Thursday, free for art teachers and their students (upon presentation of school card I.D.), free for VIP members, free for the general public every last Sunday of the month and during the holiday season from December 26 to January 2 as well as spring break. Underprivileged groups supported by "Sharing the Museum" initiatives also have free access.
How to Become a Montreal Museum of Fine Arts VIP Member
Contrary to popular belief, VIP membership is within financial reach. For an annual fee of $65, VIP members have unlimited priority access to ALL temporary exhibits, ALL "discovery" exhibits and the permanent collection for 12 months. That means skipping the line when a popular exhibit comes to town. And it could also mean saving money, depending on how often you visit. It costs about the same if not less to buy a VIP pass than to pay individually for each new temporary exhibit, considering that roughly three to four major temporary exhibits are presented within a given year. VIP members also benefit from discounts on the MMFA's various workshops and concerts.
To buy tickets and/or for more information on admission as well as current and upcoming exhibits, visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts website.