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The Poppies, by Monet

Art may be subjective to a lot of people, but I typically find the classics to be very satisfying to look at. I'm only going to mention paintings here, such as Gothic, Renaissance, Romanticism and Impressionism of Western European origin. While in London and on several trips to the continent, one of my favorite hobbies was visiting art museums, and learning about the finest paintings, and artists. Here is a list of the major art museums that I visited:

The National Gallery, London - The best collection in the world in my opinion; well rounded with English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Italian paintings. Some of the most famous examples of Impressionism are here. I've been to the NG more times than I can possibly remember. Admission is free, and such a good haven on a cold, wet day in London. Personal note: I once saw Whoopi Goldberg there, in 1988, before she was a mega celebrity. I casually walked through a room admiring the paintings and she was doing the same. I kept glancing at her, trying not to let her know I was looking at her, of course. It was like this for about three or four minutes, and then when we came to the entrance of another room, some American woman recognized her and started talking to her. So, I moved on and continued my wanderings. Located at Trafalgar Square, London's geographic center.

The National Portrait Gallery, London - The collection is like a lesson on famous characters in British history, also free. It contains countless portraits by the Masters of European art, and is surely one of the best of its kind in the world. I especially like the Holbein examples. I've been there many times, and always went away inspired to learn more about British history. Located right behind the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square.

The Tate Gallery, London - Not as convenient to get to as the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, but very significant, as art galleries go. Has several of Turner's finest paintings, and a lot of other English paintings, including portraits by Sargent. Admission is free also. I've been there a few times.

The Queen's Gallery, London - At Buckingham Palace. Pretty good, but only a small portion of the vast collection is usually on exhibit. Primarily royal subjects. Admission charge. The Queen's Gallery

The Courtauld Institute, London - At Somerset House on the Strand. One of the finest collections of Impressionism anywhere. A terrific find! Numerous Monet's, Manet's, Renoir's, Pissarro's, Cezanne's, Degas', Van Gogh's, etc. Admission charge.

The Wallace Collection, London - Not as well-known, but very rich in content. Includes Frans Hal's Laughing Cavalier, and some good Canaletto's. I've been there at least twice.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Has some good British painters represented, notably John Constable. And it has a couple of large rooms of sculpture, mostly copied versions of the great Roman Empire and Italian Renaissance sculpture, such as Michelangelo. I've been there a few times.

Dulwich Gallery, London - Located in an older, well-to-do suburb of South London, it holds the distinction of being England's first public art gallery (est. 1811). A pretty good collection of portraits and still life's; there's at least one Rembrandt, a Rubens, and some Gainsborough's, but not any of their more famous ones. When I visited the gallery it was a bit dark and forlorn, but it was remodeled in 2002, and looks stunning! Admission

The Louvre Museum, Paris - Best known for the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Victory of Samothrace, the Lourve is easily one of the top museums in the world. Its Egyptian and Roman Antiquities, Renaissance and Middle Ages collections, and various schools of paintings are superb, particularly its Napoleonic and French Revolution era paintings. Plus, it has some of the most famous examples of early Impressionism. A well-rounded collection; also very big on sculpture. I've been there twice, and it takes a lot of time to see. Admission charge.

Musee d'Orsay, Paris - Located in a renovated train station. What the Louvre lacks in Impressionism, the d'Orsay makes up for it. It contains art from roughly the years 1848-1914, and includes a variety of art objects, best known for, though not exclusively, Impressionism. I've been there once, and felt that it was much more accessible than the Louvre. Admission charge.

The Royal Museum of Fine Art, Brussels - Some excellent Flemish, French and Dutch paintings, such as Bosch and Bruegel, plus David's The Death of Marat. I was in a hurry, so I don't remember a whole lot.

The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - Best known for Rembrandt's Night Watch, and other Dutch paintings from Holland's Golden Age. I love the Dutch school of paintings very much. I was disappointed to find that all the Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) paintings were on-loan somewhere else. He was known for his idealized winter scenes of people at play, i.e. ice skating, and the like. My visit to the Rijksmuseum was too brief, however, to see it properly.

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam - Opened in 1895, and is primarily modern art from Dutch Expressionism to Minimalism and sculpture. Some fine lesser known works from Monet to Chagall. Undergoing much renovation in the early 2000's.

Gemaldegalerie, Berlin - A well-rounded European collection with fine examples of all the major schools of art from the early Renaissance to the 19th Century. This used to be located in (not-easy-to-find) Dahlem-Dorf in SW Berlin, but worth the effort to get there. I spent the better part of a day there admiring the collection of paintings during late December 1993. Note: this collection was moved to a new museum at the Kulturforum in Central Berlin near Potsdamer Platz in 1998. Update: I went to the gallery in July 2004, and its new, impressively spacious building was very appropriate for this fine collection. I went again in July 2012.

The New National Gallery, Berlin - Contains examples of classic modern art from cubism, expressionism, the Bauhaus and surrealism. While it may not be my favorite kind of art, it does grow on you the more you study it.

The Old National Gallery, Berlin - It was musty, but impressive, and right in the middle of Central Berlin, located in Museum Island. It was similar to the Gemaldegalerie, but with more German artists, and numerous impressionistic paintings of high quality. Note: this museum has been renovated since about 2000. I went again in 2012.

Kunsthistorisches Museum - Museum of Fine Art, Vienna - Rather impressive, to put it lightly. Chocked full of European Masters; including some famous Bruegel's (I love Pieter Bruegel's work) and Austrian painters, housed in a magnificent baroque edifice. Treasures of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Van Gogh Museum - Amsterdam - Contains many pantings by Van Gogh himself, from early works to the end of his short, illustrious life. Also, some other paintings by artists who were influential to Van Gogh or people he left a mark on. From the Potato Eaters, to the Sunflowers, the Yellow House, and his Bedroom in Arles. This is the best of Van Gogh.

The Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel, Rome - Almost too much to digest. The Sistine Chapel is Michelangelo's masterpiece, and that is what I wanted to see the most. It was everything I expected and more. It was molto bello!


The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN - I've been there several times, to see exhibits, such as From El Greco to Picasso Exhibit on temporary loan from the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. in early 2004. The best part was Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party and the three van Gogh's in my opinion. A wonderful exhibit overall. Admission charge.

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA - We went there to see the current exhibits, and the permanent collection, which was fairly strong in African, American, European and Asian art. There were some less well known examples of paintings by several famous painters, from Sargent, Homer, Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro. Including sculpture by Rodin, and Remington. Admission charge.

Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN - This is a surprisingly good museum, covering all the major aspects and styles of American Art, from the early pioneers to modern, mostly with paintings, though there are many realistic and abstract scuptures. The museum's three distinct styles of architecture set on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River combine for one of the most visually attractive settings I've ever seen. The day I went, the Grandma Moses: Grandmother to the Nation exhibit was there, and it was excellent (Summer 2007). Admission charge.

The National Gallery, Washington D.C. - This is certainly one of the best art collections in the USA, and I would say it compares well with the better collections in Europe. It has a good sampling of Classical, Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, Impressionistic, and American paintings. It contains the only De Vinci painting in this country. The Gallery itself is impressively built. I have been to the main collection four times, but I have not been inside of the modern art section in the East Wing. Free admission.

National Museum of American Art, Washington D.C. - Some very nice examples of American painters like Cassatt, Homer and Sargent. The western landscapes are particularly good.

National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C. - This is the premier collection for portraits of important individuals of American history. The Hall of Presidents is excellent, and much more, ranging from Arthur Ashe to Pocahontas. The building contains both the National Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. Free admission.

Philadelphia Museum of Art - One of the most impressive art museums in the country. Very strong in Impressionism, and European paintings. This museum, more than any other I have seen, uses furniture and reconstructed interiors from palaces, manor houses, monasteries, temples, etc., to set a scene for its paintings and art objects. Admission charge.

Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD - I went there strictly to see an exhibit from Denmark, called The Age of Impressionism, which was an overview of Impressionism's rise in popularity, and was all from one collection originally bought by one art collector from Copenhagen. The museum has a fine variety of art on display that belongs to the Walters family. Admission charge.

My Favorite Painters:

Late Gothic:
Gothic paintings tend to look rather flat, lacking depth, and the people look thin and emaciated, but late gothic painters like Hieronymus Bosch and Lucas Cranach began to add more depth and movement to their canvases. Bosch is known for very detailed, but strange and unusual paintings of a highly imaginative nature. Many of his masterpieces are so symbolic that they require extensive interpretation. I always find his work fascinating. Pieter Bruegel the Elder could also be included with the late gothic. His paintings of ordinary life and religious themes are so entertaining to look at because of the action, and motion of the subjects. He depicts so well the clothing and occupations of people in the Flemish middle ages. His religious paintings, like the Tower of Babel, and the Nativity are always masterfully depicted in his own time period.

Renaissance and Romanticism:
Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo are two of the most famous Renaissance painters, for obvious reasons, but they moved art out of the gothic style and on to a more realistic appearance, with lighter colors and baroque features, which evolved into Romanticism and several other styles. I have seen a number of de Vinci's paintings and drawings, as well as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, which is just about as awe inspiring as you can get. Hans Holbein the Elder, and Hans Holbein the Younger, were two accomplished portrait painters. I have seen several of their paintings in England, and they are quite recognizable. The Elder portrayed the Tudor era very well in his work. I especially like the English Romantics like Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, and Joshua Reynolds for their wonderful portraits and landscapes. The Spanish master's Diego Velazquez and Francisco Goya are also among my favorites.

Dutch and Flemish School:
Several Dutch painters of the 1600's to 1700's are just excellent, during the time of Holland's "Golden Age." Who could deny that Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, and Jan Vermeer are among the greatest painters that ever lived? They knew how to capture people, their clothing, possessions, and surroundings so perfectly. During about the same time period, Flemish masters Anthony van Dyck, and Peter Paul Rubens were perfecting their own personal styles that were to be appreciated by monarchs and art buyers in England.

Impressionism, in its glory, came during the 1860's to 1880's, and is a distinct style that was emulated by many, but was only mastered by a couple of dozen painters. Its aim was to give the impression of an object, person, place or landscape without being too exact, or detailed, using bright, vivid colors. Impressionism developed in France by French painters such as Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Degas. Considered unacceptable at first by the Salon Ecole des Beauz-Arts, Impressionism was rejected, but due to popular demand, it was featured in the alternative "Salon of the Refused" in 1863, and gradually spread in popularity in Western Europe and North America to such an extent that it is still extremely popular today.

I particularly like Camille Pissarro because he went to live in London in 1870, to escape the Franco-Prussian War, and settled in an area called Norwood, which is near to where I lived for two years, in South Norwood. He painted several landscapes of the area, some of which you can still recognize today. These views are very familiar and dear to me because I have walked them many times.

This is just a quick summary of my favorite painters. It is not possible to go into much detail, or even include all of them, but let me say this; we need art to replenish some of what is lost in our modern world. What we are lacking is a connection to the past, and paintings can help us imagine what the past was like. So, next time you see a painting, try to understand its background, and see what you can learn from it. It just might transport you to another time and place...and that could be COOL!

"A painting in a museum hears more rediculous opinions than anything else in the world." -- Edmond de Concourt

"Ars longa, vita brevis" "art is long, life is short" --Hippocrates

The Vincent van Gogh Gallery - a good site about van Gogh
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