Michal & Renata HORNSTEIN

Michal & Renata HORNSTEIN

2012 Cultural Cultural

Serious patrons of the arts, Michal and Renata Hornstein are a close-knit couple who have built a remarkable life through their unshakeable love of life, optimism and tenacity. They live their lives with a steadfast desire to share their good fortune and express their profound gratitude toward their adoptive country. They have never stopped showing their generosity, particularly in the arts, healthcare and education.

Michal Hornstein was born in Cracow, Poland. A graduate of the business school of that city, he was there during Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. He was arrested for deportation to Auschwitz, but escaped by jumping from the train and hid in the forests of Czechoslovakia. He then went into hiding in Budapest until the Russian army arrived in 1944. Michal then escaped to Bratislava, where he met his future wife. Renata Witelson was born in Lodz, Poland. She was just a young girl when her family took refuge in Warsaw at the beginning of the war. When her parents were imprisoned, Renata fled to Cracow and went on to join her uncles in Budapest. To avoid Nazi persecution, she set off again, this time in the direction of Bratislava. That’s where she met Michal, who had sought refuge among loved ones. At the end of the war, in 1946, the couple settled in Rome, where they married. Fascinated by art, particularly the work of the Dutch and Italian old masters, Renata brought Michal to the great museums of Rome, and together they began to build their famous collection.

In 1951, the couple immigrated to Montréal. Michal Hornstein went into business, founding Federal Construction Ltd., a real estate company of apartments and shopping centres, which he has been president of since 1952. A discerning art collector, he has been involved with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) since 1970, initially as a member of the board of trustees. He then became vice-president of the board in 1979 and chair of the acquisition committee for European art before 1900 in 1982. For over 40 years, Michal and Renata Hornstein have shown tremendous generosity to the MMFA, donating a number of masterpieces by old masters and offering financial help for the acquisition of important works.

In 2012, Michal and Renata Hornstein decided to donate their collection of old masters to the Museum, comprised of some 80 works with a value in excess of $75 million, the largest private modern history donation to a Quebec museum and the second largest in Canada. Recognized by international specialists, this collection is a national treasure without rival. In fact, the collection’s estimated value does not accurately measure its importance, because today it would be impossible to collect such a variety of canvases by old masters. Featuring mainly paintings, it covers several centuries, from the Renaissance to the advent of modern art.

The donation of this collection, which recounts the story of their lives, is testimony to the Hornstein’s commitment to the Museum — which they have dedicated themselves to for over 40 years — as well as their affection for Montréal. It is a unique legacy for the MMFA, Montréal, Quebec and Canada. With this major addition, the Museum can now lay claim to a major international-calibre collection of Dutch and Flemish art. To house the collection, in 2017 the Museum will inaugurate an international art pavilion, as part of Montréal’s 375th anniversary.

In addition to their involvement with the MMFA, Michal and Renata Hornstein are outstanding philanthropists. Their major contribution to healthcare and education is testimony to their concern for the well-being of their fellow citizens. In the realm of healthcare, they are one of the major benefactors for the Montreal Heart Institute, the Montreal General Hospital, the Hôpital Notre-Dame, the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Jewish General Hospital. In the field of education, they have provided generous support to Université de Montréal, Concordia University and McGill University. Through their great generosity and their unbridled support for museums, hospitals and universities, Michal and Renata Hornstein contribute to the economic and cultural vitality of Montréal, as well as its influence locally, nationally and internationally.