Van Horne, William Cornelius, Sir, 1843–1915

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Van Horne, William Cornelius, Sir, 1843–1915

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Sir William Cornelius Van Horne (1843-1915), principal builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway and prominent businessman, was an important collector of paintings and Japanese ceramics and an accomplished amateur painter. Born in Illinois, he worked for American railway companies in various capacities until 1882, when he was appointed general manager of Canadian Pacific Railway, the construction of which was completed under his direction. In 1888, Van Horne was elected president of the company, and in 1899, he became president of its board of directors. He retired from active work in the company in 1910. Van Horne incorporated the Cuba Company in 1900 following a visit to that country; under its operations he built and operated a railway, sugar plantations and hotels. In North America, Van Horne was executive or director of more than 40 companies, and was considered one of Canada’s most successful businessmen. William Van Horne married Lucy Adaline, daughter of Erastus Hurd of Galesburg, Illinois, in 1867. They had 3 children: Adaline (1868-1941), William (1871-1876), and Richard Benedict (1877-1931). The family lived principally in Montreal, and also had residences in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and in Cuba. Van Horne was knighted (KCMG) in 1894. Sir William’s art collection is considered to have been the most prominent pre-First World War collection in Montreal. It contained Old Master and 19th-century European paintings and Japanese ceramics, and also featured ship models and European decorative arts. Van Horne lent regularly to the Montreal Art Association (precursor to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) from 1887 to 1912. His reputation as a collector resulted in his appointment to the consultative committee of the Burlington Magazine in London from 1905 until his death in 1915. Following Sir William’s death, the bulk of his ceramics collection was left to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the art collection passed to the joint ownership of Lady Van Horne and her children Adaline and Richard Benedict, according to terms of Sir William’s will. Lady Van Horne died in 1929. Under the terms of her will, a portion of the art collection went to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the rest was shared among her children. Richard Benedict Van Horne died in 1931. His widow, Edith Molson, had no claim to any share in the remains of the art collection; subsequently she married R. Randolph Bruce. A fire at the Van Horne mansion in 1935 did not damage any paintings. Adaline Van Horne, who had been managing the collection through the 1930s, died unmarried and childless in 1941. Ownership of the collection then passed to Richard Benedict and Edith’s son William C.C. Van Horne (1907–1946) and his wife Margaret (d.1987), familiarly known as “Billie” (née Hannon). When William died, leaving no heir, ownership of the collection remained with his wife. Margaret Van Horne managed the art collection for over forty years, corresponding with art dealers and conservators in order to achieve optimal values for paintings. Numerous paintings were sold in several different auction sales over the course of this time. She continued to live in the Van Horne mansion until 1972. The house was demolished the following year to great protest in the architectural conservation community. When Margaret Van Horne died in 1987, the remainder of the collection passed to her brother Matthew Hannon. Upon Matthew Hannon’s death in 1988, the remainder of the art collection passed to his heirs.


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