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.

Gaetano Pesce b. 1939

Gaetano Pesce is one of the most progressive and visionary designers of the 20th century, building a diverse and avant-garde body of work from principles of anti-rationalism, a concern for the individual and the “human touch,” and an experimental approach to materials and means of production.

Pesce was born in 1939 in La Spezia, Italy and grew up between Florence and Padua. His father, a naval officer, died in WWII, leaving his mother to raise him and his brother alone, resulting in a difficult childhood. From a young age, Pesce exhibited a rebellious spirit, joining Gruppo N, a radical artist collective when he was still a teenager. In 1959, Pesce enrolled at the University of Venice to study architecture, because he considered it to be the most complex and challenging of the arts. He found the curriculum tedious and stifling with its insistence on historicism and the hyper-rationalist, mechanical, and abstracted ideals of modernist architecture, which he thought disregarded the individual and attempted to standardize the human spirit. He found his suspicions of modernism confirmed when he visited Dessau, Germany, the birthplace of the Bauhaus, to find that the first Bauhaus building, where Paul Klee and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe taught, had been turned into a coal room.

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