Louis Muhlstock was born in Narajow, Poland. In 1911, his family moved to Canada and settled in Montreal, Quebec. While studying at Montreal High School, he attended evening classes at Council of Arts and Manufacturers under Edmond Dyonnet and Joseph St-Charles. Following his graduation from high school, he studied at the Art Association of Montreal under William Brymner. When the AAM closed in 1923, he attended the evening classes of the Royal Canadian Academy (given at the AAM) under George H. Russell, Charles Simpson, Albert H. Robinson, Maurice Cullen and Edmond Dyonnet. In 1925, on his first submission for an exhibition, one of his works was accepted at the Royal Canadian Academy exhibition. From 1926 to 1927, he enrolled at École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal and took classes under F. Charpentier. In 1928 he went to France where he furthered his studies at the studio of Louis-François Biloul until 1931. While in France, he also frequented the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and exhibited works at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français in Paris. His summers were spent sketching in the French provinces and in Belgium, and visiting museums.
When Muhlstock returned to Montreal in 1931, the great depression was well underway. He frequented Fletcher’s Field, an open area in Montreal, where he sketched and drew the unemployed lying asleep on the grass or sitting staring morosely into space. Because of his work’s social content and his profound humanity, he came to be known as an artist of “proletarian significance”. In 1932, he held his first solo show at the Montreal Arts Club. That same year he also exhibited in various group shows including a show at the National Gallery of Canada, the Ontario Society of Artists exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto, the Spring Exhibition of the Art Association of Montreal, the Canadian National Exhibition and the Royal Canadian Academy show. His work began to attract great interest, his drawings and nudes being recognized as an important part of his corpus, but he also received high acclaim for his portraits and paintings of deserted streets and houses. In order to earn a better living, Muhlstock gave private lessons. He was later able to give up teaching when he began to earn sufficient money with his art. In 1935, he became friends with other Montreal artists such as Jori Smith, Jean Palardy, Marion Scott and Fritz Brandtner, artists with whom he would he later form the Contemporary Art Society (1939) with the help of John Lyman. That same year, he also exhibited seventy drawings during a one-man show at the Art Association of Montreal.
In 1936, Muhlstock took a studio on Ste. Famille Street in Montreal. That year his work was exhibited at the T. Eaton Galleries in Montreal and at the Loan Society in Toronto, where he exhibited again in 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1942. In 1937, he was elected a member of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art and the following year he became a member of the Canadian Group of Painters. In 1939 he took part in the Four Artists’ Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto along side Henri Masson, André Biéler and Philip Surrey. In 1941 he participated at the Kingston Conference and became an active member of the Federation of Canadian Artists, thus helping Canadian artists take part to the War efforts. Starting in 1943, Muhlstock and Fritz Brandtner frequented the old port of Montreal where they sketched the factory workers of the Canadian Vickers, the United Shipyards and the Defence Industries limited. They later showed their works at the National Gallery of Canada during the two-man show Exhibition of Works in Canadian War Plants by Fritz Brandtner and Louis Muhlstock.
From the mid-forties to the late 1950’s, Muhlstock painted and exhibited at many major venues in Canada and abroad such as Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT (1944), the National Gallery of Canada (1945, 1949-1950), Graphic Arts Society exhibition in Sao Paolo, Brazil (1946), Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris (1946), Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (1948, along with Jean Dallaire, Franklin Arbuckle and others), the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA (1949), Vancouver Art Gallery (1950), National Gallery of Art, Washigton, DC (1950), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1952), Exposition Internationale, Lugano, Switzerland (1954) and at the International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburg, PA (1955).
In 1959, Muhlstock bought a house on Ste. Famille Street, not too far from where his first studio was, and held a one-man show of his works at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In 1961, he participated in the Biennial of Canadian Painting held at the National Gallery of Canada and the following year held another one-man show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Over the course of the next decades, Muhlstock kept painting and exhibiting in a variety of places such as the Centre Culturel de la Ville de Verdun (1972, 1994) National Gallery of Canada (1975, 1989), Art Gallery of Windsor (1976), Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (1976), Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1977), Edmonton Art Gallery (1978, 1980, 1988), Place des Arts, Montreal (1978, 1987), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Sherbrooke (1986), Saidye-Bronfman Centre, Montreal (1987, 1989), Bishop’s University, Lennoxville (1990, 1993), Musée Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Montreal (1993) and others. In 1978, Muhlstock received an Honorary Doctorate from Concordia University and he was also honoured in 1990 by the Society of the Jewish People’s Schools & Peretz Schools. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1991 and held a one-man show at the opening of the Loto-Québec gallery in Montreal that same year. In 1995, the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec organised a major retrospective show and in 1998, he was made Chevalier de l’Ordre du Québec. He died in Montreal at the age of 97.