Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rubens, Rembrandt, Velasquez -- up in flames on Sherbrooke Street

Seventy-five years ago today, a fire damaged the Van Horne mansion on Sherbrooke Street West at Stanley (northeast corner), claiming a good part of its legendary art collection. This historic and irreplacable building had been home to William Cornelius Van Horne (1843-1915), art collector and genius behind the Canadian Pacific Railway -- and practically a Father of Confederation. No wonder Mayor Jean "No Peanuts" Drapeau gladly issued a $5 demolition permit to wreck it back in 1973. Despite organized opposition, it was torn down by latter-day owner David Azrieli, who had the audacity to put a vanity plaque on the hideous skyscraper that replaced it. (It was Liquid Air; now it's Sofitel). But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Back up to 40 years before the wrecking ball came down on it: the fire on Monday, April 3, 1933, caused a lot of damage to the house and the most outstanding Canadian collection of Van Horne's day, which included several Old Masters. (Some of the other great local art collections of the day belonged to Bank of Montreal president Sir George Drummond and the financier Edward Black Greenshields.)

5 comments:

Shawn said...

Great post, as always. However, the photo underscores (to me, at least) what I have heard before: which is that as reprehensible as the Liquid Air building was, the mansion itself was far from the finest of the Sherbrooke/Golden Mile structures. I guess it's a question of hanging on to what little is left.

Tiffany Sage said...

Yep it's a shame :(
I'm one of four living direct descendants of Van Horne. My mom remembers that house when she was little.

tinasacha said...

I actually own a window from the mansion - it was forwarded to my father before the wrecking ball hit. It is stunning. About 4' x 3'. I would LOVE to find any photos of the interior of the mansion or more information about this piece. I can only seem to find this one image of the house (as seen on this page). Does anyone have any links or information for me?
Many, Many Thanks!

Kristian said...

A 1974 book (collection of Gazette articles) called Montreal at the Crossroads has a few good chapters on it. Michael Fish might also have some files on it. He was with Save Montreal, which was eventually supplanted by Phyllis Bronfmans Heritage Montreal which in turns has been semi-useless at protecting stuff.

Anonymous said...

I am looking for a list of paintings in van Horne collection - specifically, for the information about "The Feast of Herod" by Rubens. It seems it might have burned in the fire. Any ideas?
Tomasz