I admire everything that is useless, frivolous and whimsical, I hate functionalism, post-modernism and almost everything else...the house and its objects is supposed to be some crazy place that make you laugh.

Pedro Friedeberg

The Liliane Stewart Collection

by David A. Hanks, Curator, Stewart Program for Modern Design

Liliane Stewart

The roots of the collection began in 1979, when Montreal philanthropists and collectors Liliane and David Macdonald Stewart founded the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts and the Stewart Collection. Liliane Stewart, the primary force behind the effort, initially concentrated on mid-century design—a focus unique among North American museums at the time. Over the years, the collecting focus grew to include designs from 1900 to the present. Liliane Stewart’s philosophy was to seek out work by acclaimed international designers while remaining open to work by lesser-known practitioners. Early on, she recognized the importance of relationships with designers, dealers, curators and collectors as sources of information, expertise, and new work. Through her collecting, Liliane Stewart often discovered young designers whose names have since become household words. 

Following David Stewart’s death in 1984, Liliane Stewart continued to collect, amassing a sizeable trove of the world’s finest examples of design, from mass produced, industrial products to unique crafted objects, limited editions and prototypes. Over the years, she developed a collaborative relationship with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and in 1991 commissioned Frank Gehry to create dedicated exhibition galleries for the Stewart Collection in the MMFA. In 2000—by which time the Collection numbered more than five thousand objects—she donated it to the MMFA, which termed it “one of the most valuable gifts ever received by a Canadian museum.” 

Liliane Stewart continued to collect after donating her original collection to the MMFA. She founded the Stewart Program for Modern Design, which has acquired more than 600 objects since 2000. Although Liliane Stewart died in 2014, the Stewart Program for Modern Design continues to carry out her mission of using the collection—through exhibitions, publications, and films—to educate the public about design and its role in contemporary society. 

As the Stewart Program collection grew and the collection was refined, it became evident that deaccessioning would be necessary. The process of refining the collection to plan for future projects has led to the present sale at Rago/Wright, which offers important designs from the Stewart Program collection. Included are duplicates of designs in the collection along with sets from which only a single example was retained. Also included in the sale are pieces of modern furniture that were acquired in the 1980s and 90s for use in the original offices of the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts.

The Art of Giving


Watch an excerpt from the 2012 documentary film The Art of Giving/L’art de donner surrounding Lilane Stewart's extraordinary life as a collector and donor of the arts.

Pedro Friedeberg b. 1937

Born Pietro Enrico Hoffman Landesman in Florence, Italy to German-Jewish parents, Pedro Friedeberg fled the war with his family to Mexico at the age of three. He describes his childhood as an unhappy one, and recalls being forced to learn the violin and several foreign languages. Artistic from a young age, Friedeberg was enthralled with the Gothic architecture of Florence and later, by the Aztec ruins in his adopted home-town of Mexico City. In 1957, he enrolled in the Universidad Iberoamericana to study architecture, however his studies were short lived. He found traditionalist Modernist designs boring and was more interested in creating fantastical structures than functional buildings. Encouraged by his friend and sculptor Mathias Goertiz, Friedeberg left university to pursue a career as an artist full time. He had his first solo exhibition at the age of twenty-two at Galería Diana in 1960 and began associating with other Surrealists and Neo-Dadaists, including Leonora Carrington and Alice Rahon, who also called Mexico City home. Together, they formed the group Los Hartos (The Fed-Up Ones) which was steeped in absurdist Dadaist traditions and focused singularly on making art for art’s sake. His most famous work, the Hand Chair came about almost as a joke after he was asked to give some work to Goertiz’s woodcarver in his absence. The resulting form has sold more than 5,000 copies since its inception. Aside from furniture design, Friedeberg is also an accomplished painter, his two dimensional works meld Op Art with Surrealism to create an aesthetic all his own. Known as one of the last great eccentrics, Friedeberg has exhibited widely in his time and his works reside in many public and private collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

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