Since my bestselling novel, Oil and Marble, is art historical fiction, a lot of fans ask about my favorite museums…
I love giant art museums — the Louvre, Met, Getty, Vatican, British Museum; you can wander through their halls for days and still not see everything on display.
But even more than a giant museum, I love walking into a TINY museum that has a collection that rivals the big kids. Sure it’s fun to walk through miles and miles of art, but if you’re looking for a more intimate experience, here are my favorite tiny art museums with giant collections.
I have to start with one of my favorite museums in the world: the Norton Simon. In Los Angeles, the Getty and LACMA (and lately the Broad) always seem to steal the show, but the Norton Simon is the real star. At this tiny museum, every piece is a masterpiece. Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, Raphael — they are all here, hanging side by side in this jewel-box of a space. And it’s FREE every first Friday of the month, so you have no excuse NOT to go.
2: Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, England
This is one of the greatest finds in all of London. Part historic house, part library, part art collection, this is one of the most surprising museums I have ever had visited. It’s small, but every inch is crammed with unique pieces from ancient marble sculptures to paintings by Hogarth and Turner. Plus, it’s all located in a house designed by Sir John Soane, one of England’s most famous and unique 19th century architects. Oh, and it’s ALWAYS free to visitors. The next time you are in London, do NOT miss this spot.
One of my favorite things about this museum is its venue: a 15th-century Venetian-style palace located in the heart of Boston. Inside, there’s a peaceful courtyard surrounded by three stories of galleries. Titian, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Matisse are all represented on these walls. This museum was also home to the biggest art heist in history; the thieves made off with works by Degas, Rembrandt and Vermeer. Empty frames still mark the places where the paintings once hung. But even without the stolen masterpieces, this is still home to one of the best art collections in the world.
4: Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris, France
Paris is dominated by GIANT museums — what can compete with the Louvre or the Musee D’Orsay, two of the most famous museums in the world? Head out to the Musee Marmottan and you might just find out. This tiny museum packs a giant punch — with some of the most famous impressionist works in the world including paintings by Renoir, Degas, Berthe Morisot and Monet’s Impression: Sunrise, the painting that gave the Impressionists their name.
5: Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sometimes overshadowed by the behemoth Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation — with works by Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh — has not only one of the best Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections in the city, but in the world. In 2012, the Barnes moved from its old location in Merion to a new (and sometimes controversial) location in Philadelphia, but regardless of what you think of the new digs, the collection itself is always worth a visit.
6: The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands
Every continent (except Antarctica) has a museum with Van Gogh paintings on display. The largest of these museums is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, but one of the best — and often overlooked — is the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands (about an hour outside of Amsterdam). This museum holds over 100 Van Gogh paintings along with Seurats, Mondrians and Picassos. Plus, it boasts one of the largest sculpture gardens in all of Europe.
7: The Frick in New York City, New York
This museum is located in the opulent residence of Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919); according to the website it’s “one of New York City’s few remaining Gilded Age mansions,” so if you’re as interested in old houses as art, this is a must-see spot for you. It also happens to be home to masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya, Whistler, Ingres and Bellini. Amid the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, this is a tranquil spot to travel back in time and soak in some art.
8: Kimbell Art Museum in Dallas, TX
The Kimbell is home to the only Michelangelo painting held in an American Collection, so of course I rank it high on my list. (It’s a small copy Michelangelo made when he was only 12 or 13. Not representative of his style or interests, but an impressive example of his prodigious talents). Their permanent collection is also home to works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya, Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Titian… I love the Kimbell for focusing on quality over quantity — it’s small, but for quality of works, it can’t be beat.
9: The Clark in Williamstown, Massachusetts
I love this little art museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It boasts an impressive collection of Impressionism and American Art — and also a good representation of the Renaissance, photography, and the decorative arts. This museum holds a special place in my heart because of its mission to be both art museum AND a center of learning to expand the public understanding and appreciation of art. If you’re looking for a museum that TRULY wants to engage with YOU, a visit to The Clark should be top on your list.
10: Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice
When you think of the Guggenheim, you may think of the New York icon or Gehry’s architectural masterpiece in Bilbao, but I think of this stellar gallery on the canals of Venice — which shows off the personal collection of Peggy Guggenheim. Pollocks and Picassos, Duchamps and Dalis, Mondrians, Miros and Magrittes — in a city teaming with Italo-Byzantine architecture and Renaissance art, this jewel on the canal is an escape into some of the best modern art in the world.
These are just some of my favorite small art museums. Where are yours?