Max Stern may not be a household name but two Montreal exhibits hope to change that by celebrating the life of one of Canada's pioneering arts aficionados.

As the owner of the now-closed Dominion Gallery in downtown Montreal for 40 years, Stern helped introduce Canadian and international art collectors to the likes of Emily Carr, John Lyman, Stanley Cosgrave and Lawren Harris.

The German-born Stern, the son of a successful Dusseldorf art dealer, helped spread the word about Canada's talented artists, said Michel Moreault, Stern's former assistant and curator of Max Stern: The Taste of a Dealer showing at Concordia University's art gallery.

"At the time that he came, there was a lot of art being made here," Moreault told CBC News. However, the little-known artists only sold their work "amongst themselves and their friends."

Gallery opening

After living in England, Stern emigrated to Canada in the early 1940s and took over the Dominion Gallery in 1947. There, he signed exclusive contracts with Canadian artists, an arrangement that gave the artists stability and set him apart from the other, more conservative art dealers in Montreal.

Committed to supporting living artists, Stern eventually persuaded private collectors to take a break from British artists in favour of Canadian works.

His 1944 Emily Carr exhibit, for instance, was one of the West Coast artist's only commercial successes during her lifetime.

Stern had a knack for detecting an artist's commercial potential and developing a market for it. That he was a great salesman made him important to the community, said the director of the Concordia gallery.

"He was very successful," said Michèle Thériault. "He was able to disseminate the work across Canada and [into] many institutions, so that had a big impact because a lot of those artists are [now] represented in Canada's institutions."

Joint effort

The Concordia exhibit is joined by a related show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which features some of the many works Stern and his wife Iris bequeathed to local museums and galleries after his death in 1987.

The museum will also dedicate a sculpture garden in the couple's honour.

Max Stern: The Taste of a Dealer runs at Concordia's Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery until Oct. 9.

A Dealer for "Living Art": Selected Works from the Max and Iris Stern Donation to Montreal continues at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through Jan. 23, 2005.