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Quebec Silver from the Collection
of the National Gallery of Canada

Montreal, Wednesday June 2 1999 The McCord Museum inaugurates Quebec Silver from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada, a travelling exhibition of both sacred and secular masterpieces of silversmithing. The exhibition bears witness to the passion of an extraordinary collector, Mr. Henry Birks, and elegantly documents the major trends marking the history of decorative arts in Canada since the seventeenth century. 

Silver has been used in Quebec since the arrival of the first French settlers — imported pieces from the home country were found alongside works by silversmiths active in the colony. Whether intended for sacred use or for the French-Canadian aristocracy, this early silverwork conveys the influence of the highly ornamental Baroque and Rococo styles. Works produced during the Neo-Classical period show both a characteristic severity of form and line and an interesting convergence of British and French influences.A more supple, sinuous vocabulary was restored during the historicist revivals of the early nineteenth-century, and many of the pieces from this era echo earlier stylistic themes. The Romantic reverence for nature combined with increasing nationalist sentiments gave rise to Canadian Naturalism. Pieces from this period feature local flora and fauna, particularly the maple leaf and the beaver, and refer to the daily routines and activities of Quebec society. The twentieth-century preoccupation with the relationship of form, function and beauty is well-documented by beautiful Art-Deco and Modern pieces in the exhibition.  All of the works originate in Quebec, historically renowned for its silversmiths and the artistry of the sacred vessels and other liturgical silver used in Roman Catholic worship.

The exhibition features beautifully engraved and ornamented masterpieces of the silversmith's art, including tea services, a speaking trumpet, salvers and cruets, commemorative plaques and cups of all kinds, a feathered punch bowl on hen's feet, and a majestic collection of liturgical silver — monstrances, aspersoria, an incense boat and magnificent chalices. Begun in 1962, the National Gallery's silver collection was significantly expanded by a donation from Henry Birks' collection in 1979 on the centennial of the founding of Henry Birks and Sons, Inc. Now, in celebration of their 120th anniversary, the Montreal jewellers are helping to bring the collection home. 

Quebec Silver from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada is organized by René Villeneuve, Assistant Curator, Early Canadian Art at the National Gallery. In addition to the sponsorship of Henry Birks and Sons, Inc., the exhibition has also received generous support from Chubb Insurance Company of Canada and Power Corporation of Canada. The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful catalogue, available at the McCord Boutique.

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Source:
Annie Daoust
(514) 398-7100, ext. 251
annie@mccord.lan.mcgill.ca

Photographs and slides available on request

The McCord wishes to acknowledge the support of the Heritage Canada Museums Assistance Program, the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications and the Arts Council of the Montreal Urban Community.