Michal and Renata Hornstein have been extraordinary donors to the educational, medical and cultural institutions of Montreal, the city they immigrated to in 1952. Both Polish-born, they spent the war years in hiding, meeting in 1944 in Czechoslovakia, marrying in Rome in 1947 and in that city kindling their interest in art. Renata Hornstein née Witelson, has chronicled her and her family’s war years experiences in two books of poetry. Her husband Michal quite literally escaped Auschwitz by jumping out of a window when the train stopped on its way to the notorious camp. In Montreal they raised their two children ande Michal built the highly successful real estate business that he has run for more than 50 years. At 93, he still goes to the office five days a week.
Their record of gifts (Concordia has been a recipient) to Montreal’s medical, cultural and education institutions and the honors they’ve received (from the queen, the country, the province, and the city) would take up all my time to describe. But in fact the reason the Hornsteins were nominated by myself and my department, Concordia’s Liberal Arts College, were more specifically their gifts of art works to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts over the past decade, the sheer quantity of which totals something like 450, is staggering It was crowned by last year’s announcement of a gift of over 70 old masters. But my nomination was not based on numbers alone. It’s based on the fact that so many of these paintings are of exceptional interest and beauty. The Hornsteins have been smart collectors. As an art historian I visit a lot of museums, and though our Montreal collection of Dutch Baroque art – an area the Hornstein’s have been especially active in - is smaller than those of the Met, the National Gallery in Ottawa, and the Alte Pinakoteck in Munich, I find it more enjoyable to look at. Most important of all, as a teacher of art history at Concordia’s Liberal Arts College I have found their collection of great value in teaching. The Museum of Fine Arts, conveniently located so close to our greystone building on McKay Street, has become a second classroom and textbook for my LAC students. The l7th century collection provides all the categories I need to teach the Dutch Golden Age. And at the same time it presents lots of very interesting still unsolved mysteries for students to tackle in their research papers. In closing I invite you, the graduating students to go to the Museum, look carefully, find your own unsolved mysteries, think about them and as you do, think about the generosity of the Hornsteins.
Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of the Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and honour to present to you Michal and Renata Hornstein, so that you may confer upon them the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.