It is all about my pick of the top 10 European classical art museums in the world (I choose them based on my experience so feel free to share your choice of the best art galleries in the world, too!)
#10 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Rijksmuseum is one of the three museums that stood in the Museum Square (Museumplein) in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It is the biggest museum in the country with more than 1 million (Wow!) objects in its collections – mainly paintings from the Dutch “Golden Age” in the 17th century. Big names include Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals… their paintings, in fact, could be found in almost every major classical art museum in the world. The architecture of the museum was impressive; it was designed by Pierre Cuypers and officially opened to art lovers in 1885. Now, the building was not only a landmark of art but also a landmark of the “I AMsterdam” brand. During the holidays, both locals and visitors could enjoy all kinds of “Amsterdam excitement” starting their day rolling on the lawn in the Museum square, enjoying the park or the wading pool under warm and glorious sunshine.
Artwork for the day: Definitely “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt, the most remarkable painting of the artist himself! The painting was actually a depiction of daytime, with dynamic movements of various characters. Look closely, you may see Rembrandt himself was in the painting, too.
More: Feel. Amsterdam.
#9 The Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Literally the birthplace of the Renaissance, The Uffizi Gallery was Italy’s most prestigious art gallery of Renaissance art (and one of the oldest galleries in the world). It is located on the Arno riverbank, around the corner of the Piazza Della Signoria. “Uffizi” means “offices,” it was originally an office building for the magistrates of Florence, and the gallery was well-lit with large windows on all sides of its U-shaped corridors. The gallery has a collection of many Renaissance great names – Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio,… to name a few. Definitely, a “must-see” whenever you are in Florence, Italy. Afterward, just grab a gelato or a cappuccino at one of the outdoor cafes in the Piazza. (Wait, maybe an Affogato, too?)
Artwork for the day: Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” is a must-see. It is one of the most famous and recognizable paintings in the world, in which Venus was standing naked on a shell on the seashore, with her hair blown gently by a shower of roses.
#8 The Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
The Prado museum is one of the three museums in the Golden Triangle of Art in Madrid, a stone throw away from the Queen Sofia Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, establishing itself as the “oldest brother” of the three, as it housed over 7,000 paintings collected from all over Europe. One of the great names in the museum was Diego Velázquez. Édouard Manet once described him as “the painter of painters”, many of his portrait paintings could be found in the Pardo Museum. The museum also housed masterpieces from Francisco Goya, and Peter Paul Rubens, El Greco, Titian, Rembrandt, Albrecht Durer, Raphael, and much more…
Artwork for the day: Although Velázquez’s widely-acclaimed work “Las Meninas” should probably have it – I am leaning towards the dark side to pick Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son”, one of the most horrific black paintings in the painter’s late-life… It was… scary.
#7 State Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
Based on the size of the structure, wasn’t the State Hermitage was falsely called “Hermitage” (usually means a small and remote dwelling)? It was located on the waterfront of the Neva River in the chilling Saint Petersburg, and the art gallery acquired more than 3 million pieces of spectacular world art, and proudly displayed them to the public eye. Today the art gallery is located in the Winter Palace; an impressive Baroque-style architecture painted in vibrant green color. One of the most impressive things about the State Hermitage was the exquisitely decorated rooms – and just like that, the museum was an art piece by itself.
The museum collected arts from ancient times to the 20th century, and the artworks are generally lined in chronological order, from the oldest to the latest. It took us three hours just to complete the major European artworks and rooms on the first two floors! Great names… (it’s getting repetitive at this point :P), Flemish school artists, Rembrandt van Rijn (He is Everywhere!), Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck; the Italians, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio; the Spanish, Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, to Pablo Picasso … zzz
Artwork for the day: Not exactly classical painting – Henri Matisse‘s “Dance”.
Not exactly a painting, but I am going with “Loggia of Raphael”. The day I was there, I saw an art teacher brought a group of 8-year-olds, just sitting on the floor in the room to practice sketching… so cool.
More: Rooms. State Hermitage
#6 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the United States
Never forget it was the hottest day I experienced in my entire life in the U.S., and I would do anything to hide out in any place with air-conditioning… and yeah, the National Gallery! If you think 3 million pieces of objects in the State Hermitage Museum sounded incredible, how about more than 137 million objects in the National Gallery of Art? The collection includes not only Western European Fine Arts but also American Art from the 18th-century beyond. The list of notable artists could go on and on… let just say generally all of the above, with French and British classical artists to some modern big names, plus American artists like Edward Hicks, Thomas Cole, John Singleton Copley, Edward Savage, and much more!
Don’t miss the other impressive Smithsonian Institution museums, such as the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, and … I needed three months in D.C…
Artwork for the day: Hmm it’s hard to choose! I would have selected an American painting by Thomas Cole, just because it is an art gallery in D.C., but the final decision… I am going with J.M.W. Turner’s “Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight”. Something “unusual”, but I really like the softness of the painting with the full moon illuminates the cloudy sky and the reflection on the surface of the water in a British Harbour, it was my iPhone wallpaper for a while until I changed to something else.
More: The Powerful Place, DC
#5 Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
The Musée d’Orsay was originally a train station on the waterfront of Seine and it has a great collection of artworks, mainly from paint masters Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and more. I would have put MO a lower-ranking has it not, together with Musée de l’Orangerie, lifted its ban on “photography in the galleries” last year – which is exciting news worth celebrating! Even better, selfie sticks remained in the ban.
Artwork(s) for the day: French impressionist Renoir’s “Bal du moulin de la Galette” – The “Moulin de la Galette”, which means a pastry mill, actually still standing in Montmartre in Paris! Millet’s “The Gleaners” is my second pick.
#4 The Vatican Museums, Vatican City, Vatican
My visit to the Vatican Museums was intense. Not because of the time constraints but the number of artworks was almost… “Suffocating” – I sincerely, though, meant it in a good way, an exciting way, and a marvelous way. For a country 1/8 the size of New York’s Central Park, the museum was taken up 10% of the space and it housed magnificent works from Renaissance artists like Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Filippo Lippi, and again, much more. The museum welcomes over 6 million visitors a year.
Instead of having paintings hanging one by one on the wall, the museum showcases mainly sculptures, engravings, wall hangings, and frescos… Everything was displayed so big and so compact my eyes didn’t know where to go. It’s really hard to imagine how much artwork one could create in a lifetime. I actually gasped the moment I was led to the Gallery of Maps, mostly because I was already so overwhelmed I wasn’t prepared for it. There was not an inch of the wall and the ceiling in the gallery that was not painted with refined details. The same thing happened in the Raphael rooms, and then the Sistine Chapel…
Artwork(s) for the day: I am going with the Gallery of Maps. Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms, of course, are not to be missed!
More: Run! Run! Roma!
#3 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York
It is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere. To me, I ranked it a little bit higher than the Vatican Museums based on its diversity. Although it’s called a museum of art, the Met sounded more like a museum of history. The museum features more than 2 million objects from all around the world, from the east to the west: artworks from Southeast Asia, Japan, China, India, Middle East, Egypt, Europe, all the way back to America. From small pieces of jewelry, paintings, figurines, sculpture, a Choir screen from a Cathedral, Façade of a bank, tome from ancient Egyptian civilization to a Temple of Dendur… all of them are stored in this gigantic museum complex.
More, visit the terrace of the Met and enjoy a glorious view of Central Park!
Artwork for the day: The Temple of Dendur.
#2 National Gallery, London, England
It was one of my earliest art museum encounters and I finally realized how “big” an art museum could be. When I was in Central Saint Martins I could visit there almost every day because the campus is right around the corner on Tottenham Court Road, and unlike its peer museum giants all over the world, the National Gallery is, seriously, FREE. It is not the main reason I rank #2, just because the gallery is really impressive. I couldn’t feel my legs for days after the visit as I couldn’t remember how many times I got lost in the maze of rooms with (probably just to me) the complicated maps in my hands, panicking where to turn and what to see next.
In fact, I thought Victoria and Albert and the British Museum should have been in the top 10 list, but they seem a little bit different from the other art galleries in the top 10, so… they could be a close #11 and #12 :).
Artwork for the day: It was probably personal, but I hope many would agree – van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. There were quite a few “Sunflowers” in the world, but this is the one.
#1 Le Louvre, Paris, France
I supposed there was not a list of top 10 art galleries in the world that Le Louvre was not in the – at least – top 3. Simply it is so world-class inside and out. Serving as a famous art museum for two centuries very few would remember that it was once a striking medieval fortress on the bank of the River Seine in Paris. Love it or hate it, the addition of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid in the center of the courtyard was a bold move. To me, it sets the bar of how to integrate the old and the new.
Inside treasure is countless. The museum housed fine art paintings from Italian, French, Spanish, Flemish, German and British painters; historical objects like sculptures, engravings, figurines, from basically all over the world, even from the Assyria Empire, Ancient Egypt, Greek, and Roman Empire.
Don’t forget to make your way through the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries after your visit and view the famous water lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie to complete your artist day in Paris :).
Artworks for the day:
Do you have any ideas about the three must-see masterpieces – the museum’s three great ladies in Le Louvre?
The Venus de Milo – An ancient Greek lady sculpture done by Alexandros of Antioch
The Victory of Samothrace (also called Nike of Samothrace), an incomplete, headless Greek victory goddess, and the tremendous surviving masterpiece from the Hellenistic Period.
and… huh, (don’t tell me you can’t even name her) Mona Lisa.
See them for yourself, but good luck squeezing your way up close ~