Art Blooms Behind Bars
in Quebec City's
Musee National des Beaux-Arts
In the mood for a little jail time?
The splendid Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec has one of the most historically interesting positions in Canada -in Battlfields Park, overlooking the iconic Plains of Abraham and the mighty St. Lawrence. From the outside terrace of the museum restaurant, you can sip a cup of coffee while perusing the land where so much of Canada's history occurred.
And thought the landscape is swaddled in snow and ice when I visit, it is still impressive. On the fields beside the museum, locals are practicing cross country skiing, and children skate on the nearby rink.
But there is more than location that is brilliant in this museum. The colleciton is wide ranging, but with a special emphasis on the abstract artists best exemplified by Jean-Paul Riopelle, whose works are displayed in a spacious gallery.
The collection consists of more than 37,000 works dating from 1700 to the present, and represents the largest collection of Quebec art. It gives visitors an opportunity to see works by both the established artists of Quebec and the newly emerging talent.
In addition to the location and the collection, the architecture of this museum is exceptional. The entrance of the musem leads to a sunfilled glass domed lobby. The neo-classical section of the museum was designed by Wilfrid Lacroix in 1933 and was, until 1991, the whole museum. It is an elegant space, with comfortable chairs for the tired art lover, and large exhibition rooms.
Rather than demolish the Old Quebec City prison next door, the museum annexed it and made it an new exhibiton space particualrly devoted to the collection of Inuit art donated to the museum. Several of the old prison cells were kept intact to show what prison life was like in the 1900s.According to their website,
"On the ground floor, block 6, which had housed dangerous criminals and those sentenced to death, was kept intact along with block 11, formerly reserved for vagrants and petty thieves."
It adds an interesting frisson to your appreciation of the art objects!
The watchtower showcases a visually impressive work created in 1991 by David Moore under the program to integrate arts into architecture.
The Musee National is the perfect destination for an afternoon of looking at fine art that is indiginous to Quebec. An added incentive to a visit is the Restaurant de Musee, a lovely space that serves light meals during the open hours of the museum. In summer, the terrace is one of the best places in the city to dine or to linger over a glass of wine and watch the sun set over the river and the park.