I always call it sensorial design, because it’s your senses that allow you to explore and understand an object. Your eyes, your fingers, even your nose. That’s why the materials are so important. Objects can change your daily life, make it exciting, happier and more poetic.

Ettore Sottsass

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.

Ettore Sottsass 1917–2007

Ettore Sottsass is one of the most significant designers and architects of the late 20th Century, his bold and colorful, Post Modern aesthetic enlivening objects, furniture and interiors and influencing design around the world. Born in Innsbruck, Austria in 1917, Sottsass and his family moved to Turin, Italy in 1929 so he could study architecture at the Politecnico di Turino. He graduated with a degree in architecture in 1939 but he was called to serve the Italian army during World War II and he spent most of the war in a concentration camp. Upon his return in 1945, he worked for his father, Ettore Sottsass senior, an architect practicing in Turin, before relocating to Milan to curate a craft exhibition at the 1946 Triennale.

In Milan, Sottsass began writing for the art and architectural magazine, Domus. It was also here in Milan that Sottsass founded his own architectural and industrial design practice establishing a name for himself by the end of the 1950s with the design of fashionable office equipment for Olivetti. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Sottsass created radical and experimental designs for forward thinking companies like Poltronova. Sottsass’ exploration of a new visual language included collaborating with artists such as Alessandro Mendini and Andrea Branzi and culminated in the formation of the radical design collective, Memphis whose work was widely accepted and shown all over the world.

Notable architectural projects by Sottsass include the interiors of a chain of stores for Esprit (1985) and the Malpensa airport near Milan (2000). He received many awards and honors throughout his lifetime and his work has been the subject of numerous international publications and exhibitions including a recent retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Designs by Sottsass can be found in the permanent collections of many museums including the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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