Montreal Museum of Fine Arts brings in record 1.3 million visitors

The museum plans to work double time to match the 2017 attendance numbers going forward, without the help of the 375th anniversary tourism boom.

MMFA credits 2017 attendance with high tourism numbers, strong programming

The Museum of Fine Arts had its most successful year ever, bringing in 1.3 million visitors in 2017. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

It was a landmark year for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2017, with the museum drawing a record-breaking crowd of 1.3 million.

It's a departure from previous years, as the 2017 attendance rate represents a 42 per cent increase over 2016. 

Nathalie Bondil, the MMFA's executive director and chief curator, says the 375th anniversary played a part — helping to bring in an estimated 11.2 million tourists to the city throughout the year-long celebrations.

Bondil isn't ready to give all the credit away, though.

"We had very strong programming," she said. "Chagall was a huge success."
Nathalie Bondil is the MMFA's executive director and chief curator. (Submitted by MMFA)

That exhibition alone, Chagall: Colour and Music, which ran from January 28 to June 13, drew more than 300,000 visitors, making it the fifth-most widely attended exhibition in the history of the MMFA.

Bondil also noted that the museum's 375th legacy project, the new Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace, was a draw for people who came to see the building and the 750 works contained within it.

"It's a great year," said Bondil, "but now we have to continue."

Beating those 2017 numbers won't be easy, however: This is only the third time in the museum's history that it surpassed the one-million-visitors mark.

New exhibit 5 years in the making

Opening its 2018 season is a new exhibition conceived of and curated here in Montreal.

Napoleon – Art and Court Life in the Imperial Palace opens to the public Feb. 3 and features artwork and objects that depict or belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Andrea Appiani painted this oil on canvas, Portrait de Napoléon Bonaparte, in 1801. (Photo by Christine Guest)

Some items have been borrowed from the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while others are being brought out of the MMFA's private collection.

"Many works will be on display for the first time in North America," said Bondil.

She said that one piece in the collection, a hat which was worn by Napoleon himself during his invasion of Russia, was among those donated to the museum 10 years ago by the late Ben Weider.

Weider, a Montreal-based body-building mogul, owned one of the most extensive collections of Napoleon memorabilia in the world.

​Three weeks before his death, Weider donated his entire collection, over 60 pieces in all, to the MMFA.

The exhibition took five years to put together and will go on tour after its Montreal engagement.