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Banking in Coade

Outside the museum at BMO’s Montreal Head Office there are four very special stone panels that grace the walls. These bas-relief panels, representing Agriculture, Navigation, Arts and Crafts, and Commerce, were installed on the façade of the original branch building in 1819. These panels were BMO’s first commissioned artworks, the start of an expansive art collection that continues to grow to this day. When the new BMO Tower went up in 1960, the panels were incorporated into the interior of the new building.

Image: Artistic rendering of the Coade stone panels being installed on the front of the Montreal main branch in 1819.

Recently restored, the stones are in remarkably good shape considering their age, and the fact that they had been exposed to the elements for years on the outside of the building. This resilience is thanks to the ceramic stoneware’s manufacturing process. Known as “Coade stones,” the panels were produced using a patented recipe that produced sculptures able to withstand heat, dirt, and frost. It is also notable that the factory producing these pieces was owned by a woman, Eleanor Coade (1733-1821).

Eleanor Coade was a savvy businesswoman who commissioned famous sculptors to design decorative elements for notable buildings, including BMO. Many of these sculptures were designed by John Bacon, an artist known for recognizable pieces that still stand in London today. The panels were inspired by John Bacon’s ideas and crafted by Joseph Panzetta and Thomas Dubbin – artists who also worked for Eleanor Coade in the early-19th century. They are an important part of BMO’s history and an interesting example of the art popular in the bank’s early days.

Image: Close up of the Coade stone panels representing Agriculture, Navigation, Arts and Crafts, and Commerce respectively.