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Pointe-à-Callière presents an exclusive exhibition: "Of Horses and Men"

MONTREAL.- Horses have always fascinated us, and for its latest exhibition, Pointe-à-Callière invites the public to admire this noble animal through the eyes of a passionate collector. In a worldwide exclusive, the Museum presents Of Horses and Men, an exhibition based on the private collection of Émile Hermès. For five months, Montrealers and visitors from around the world will get the chance to explore some of this collection, assembled by the former head of Hermès International.

In a real coup for Montréal and Pointe-à-Callière, the Museum is exhibiting some 250 remarkable objects on loan from the Émile Hermès Collection, normally housed in private rooms at the company’s prestigious Parisian shop at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Startling in its historical and cultural significance, the collection recounts the story of the horse and its relationship to people. To date, only a lucky few outside the company have ever visited the collection.

As visitors wander through this delightful exhibition, produced by Pointe-à-Callière in close collaboration with Hermès International, they will come to understand some of Émile Hermès’s passion. A lover of horses and all things equestrian, Hermès spent his life collecting thousands of works of art, paintings, books, rare and unusual objects, or stylish everyday items from a bygone era.

“When I first entered the office of Émile Hermès, it was like visiting a magical realm filled with marvels. There was a regard for quality and a love of craftsmanship employed in the service of riders and their mounts. I saw not only a collection, but the vision and passion of someone who collected in order to preserve a heritage that was both tangible and intangible. I knew at that moment that one day, we just had to make these objects more accessible and give our visitors a chance to experience this place and its touching significance. I offer my sincere gratitude to the descendants of the family of Mr. and Mrs. Émile Hermès, who were so generous in opening their doors to us,” states the Museum’s executive director, Francine Lelièvre.

A tribute to the horse
Founded in Paris in 1837, Hermès International began as a maker of harnesses and saddles at a time when horses ruled the streets. Under the leadership of the founder’s grandson Émile Hermès (1871–1951), the firm truly took off, adapting its products to the new lifestyles of an elite clientele. A sign of wealth and power, the horse was long associated with the monarchy, nobility, bourgeoisie, and prestigious racing stables. But as the automobile began to replace the horse in daily life, the saddle maker-turned-leather merchant and avant-garde couturier realized the urgency of preserving the precious treasures of equestrian heritage. Acutely aware of the horse’s enduring appeal, Émile Hermès was able to transfer the traditional values and know-how involved in making saddles to creating high-quality leather and other goods. He also cared about innovating while at the same time maintaining Hermès’s international reputation. Visitors will be able to see many of the collector’s personal possessions, including the impressive rocking horse used by all of his children, and to discover a family business that has remained true to its values and that uses the past to inspire its present and future.

“We allowed ourselves to be persuaded to do this exhibition because the museum took an interest not only in the collection but also in the collector. The collection touches something primordial in us by revealing the importance of the horse in our lives right from childhood. But it also reveals the work of a man, Émile Hermès, who, in collecting, simply prolonged his own childhood. Placed on a rocking horse as a child, he collected anything that reminded him of horses throughout his life,” notes Philippe Dumas, author, illustrator, and grandson of Émile Hermès.

Menehould du Chatelle, director of cultural heritage at Hermès International, adds that “most people who encounter the Émile Hermès Collection find it magical because its originality and uncommon abundance create such a strong impression, like a vast forest that exudes an irresistible charm and warmth.”

On the horse’s trail
Saddles, stirrups, spurs, and other horse tack from around the world are just some of the many objects along the horse’s trail, which takes visitors on a journey from Antiquity to the Renaissance to the 20th century.

The collection also includes a wonderful selection of paintings by great and lesser-known masters, as well as sculptures, engravings, and drawings. For as long as horses have been a part of human life, artists have endeavoured to express their beauty, strength, and courage, bringing famous, historical, and mythical horses – like Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology – to life. The exhibition is also dotted with a number of whimsical drawings created especially for the occasion by Philippe Dumas.

The time of horses and carriages
Visitors will also discover the wide variety of horse-related occupations and their tools: farrier, coachman, postillion and the like. Examples of technological innovation testify to the ingenuity shown in every era, whether it be specially designed hot-water bottles and foot-warming stirrups to ward off the cold or inventions like blinder bits to improve safety.

Gradually, however, the horse’s role moved from utilitarian duties to more leisurely pursuits such as riding, hunting, racing, and horse shows. Horsewomen feature prominently in the collection: sidesaddles and riding habits, along with a host of women’s equestrian accessories, are sure to surprise. Many objects, such as cases, bags, saddlebags and trunks, illustrate Hermès’s smooth transition from saddle maker to luggage maker. Ever mindful of innovation, Émile Hermès journeyed to North America during World War I on a mission to supply the French cavalry with horses and harnesses. Among the items he brought back from his stay on this side of the Atlantic was an innovative system that he would adapt for use in his creations and for which he procured a licence in France that was, for a time, exclusive: the zipper. He considered the many ways to use the new fastener and adapted it to leather accessories, travel items, ladies’ handbags, and sports clothing.

The office of Émile Hermès: the soul of 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
The exhibition ends with an intimate glimpse into Émile Hermès’s office, that mythical and magical place from where the master led the firm. A reflection of the visionary and passionate collector who was Émile Hermès, this immersive space burgeons with an eclectic abundance of works honouring the horse and equestrian cultures: a small Mexican horse, a studded trunk, a parasol-whip, lanterns, and so on. The evocation of this office, famous yet secret, transports visitors to a world of beauty, creativity, and emotion – an eloquent remembrance of the Age of the Horse.

Enhanced by audio-visual and audio productions, the exhibition also features rare books, catalogues, and, of course, silk scarves, which bear witness to a past that is still very much alive. Not to be missed are masterpieces such as the family rocking horse, a Japanese saddle from the Edo period, harnesses created for monarchs, the Brides de gala silk scarf, works by artists such as Charles Le Brun and Théodore Géricault, a Pegasus sculpture by contemporary artist Christian Renonciat, and models of horse-drawn carriages.

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