Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Lives Lived: A quiet supporter of the arts

Liliane Stewart and her late husband and long-time collaborator, David Stewart, had a direct impact on the education of more than a generation of students who have participated in the Queen's Venice Summer School in Art History.

[Liliane Stewart]
Liliane Stewart

Established in 1970 by art historian George Knox, the Summer School continued for many years under the leadership of Brian D'Argaville. Others at Queen's, including myself, have taken on their mantel and, happily, the VSS continues to thrive as one of the longest-running programs of its type in the country. Prospects were not always so bright.

In 1975 Queen's summer school programs in Venice faced challenges; those in music and in Italian, which ran concurrently with ours, ceased operation. This is when the Stewarts stepped in.

David Stewart had inherited the Macdonald tobacco fortune, although he was by inclination a scholar. To further his passion for history and Liliane's for the decorative arts, they jointly founded the Macdonald Stewart Foundation of Montreal. It has created and enriched a series of museums and historic sites at home and as far afield as the reputed house of John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) in Venice.

In 1973 the Stewarts inaugurated a symposium series and published proceedings appeared in the Canadian Collector. I attended a couple of the symposia and met the magazine's editor, Marion Hahn Bradshaw. The connection with Marion proved crucial. Knowing of her Italian interests, those of the Stewarts, and of the close connection between the three, I made Marion a hurried phone call when it became clear that the VSS was under imminent threat of closure. Marion suggested a formal request be written to the Foundation's director, James Carroll. We asked for and received specific help to subsidize our bus excursions on the mainland, or what the Venetians call the terra ferma. The funding did not amount to a large sum, but coming as it did from an outside source and at a critical moment, it saved the day.

For more than three decades annual subventions to the VSS flowed from the Macdonald Stewart Foundation, due to the steadfast support of David, Liliane who survived him by 30 years, and James Carroll. The Stewarts made one proviso: that Queen's seek to attract students from outside the university and the province. Quiet and unassuming, Liliane never sought – nor received – official recognition from Queen's until our Head of Department, Venetian specialist David McTavish, took the initiative to see that the Stewarts were publicly remembered. He directed that any surplus monies from the Summer School endow the biennial Macdonald Stewart Lecture in Venetian Culture – a scholarly version of the famous Venice Biennale. The Macdonald Stewart Lectures over the past 20 years have showcased renowned authorities who have come to share their knowledge about Venetian art. The lectureship affirms Queen's as one of the premier centers of Venetian art historical studies in the world, and acknowledges the Stewarts' far-sighted generosity to students.

Pierre du Prey is Professor and Queen's Research Chair Emeritus in the Department of Art History. His exhibition at Queen's in 2008, Palladio in Print, with its catalogue of the same name, capped off his long-standing love affair with Venice.

This article is published in the Oct. 7 edition of the Gazette. Pick up your copy at various locations around campus.